Friday, 21 February 2020

Time is Relative - Season 12: Part four

Well hello there, you beautiful thing. 

Here's what's going to happen. I'm going to show you some pictures. No, nothing frisky. These are pictures I took off the television, while I was watching old Doctor Who stories from the 1970s.

What do you mean why? Because it's awesome, that's why. And because now you can look at those pictures, and read my accompanying notes about what was happening in the story when the pictures were taken. 

I've done my best to recount the basic events of the story, but I must admit, I sometimes get distracted, and confused. And consumed by the desire just to make bits up. I'm sorry. But, on the other hand, I'm not. 

We're into the reign of Tom Baker, and this story is super good. 

Genesis of the Daleks

Pow! This story is about some Space Nazis, and how one day they decided to make Daleks happen.

This guy in the middle is one of the top Space Nazis. He's called Nyder, and he's put a lot of effort into looking evil. He's dressed in super-severe black clothes, including the kind of gloves you'd wear if you were considering murdering a child. He's got nasty little glasses on. He's slicked his hair right back, to remind everyone that he means business, and is totally in charge of everything, and that includes which way his hair points.

And he's surrounded by shadowy soldier guys, who are excitedly shooting everyone they meet. 

Excellent 'Being Evil', Mr. Nyder. Well done. 

Sarah Jane Smith turns up, in a terrifying Forest Of Death. Once again, she's got separated from Doctor Who, and now she's lost in what looks like a 1970s Public Information Film about not playing near the Old Canal.

She's probably regretting her choice of clothing, now. What she needs is something understated, which could provide camouflage in the bleak, misty forest, while also suggesting, to anyone who does see her, that she might be a dangerous soldier or something. 

What she's got is this bright yellow nonsense of a garment, which clearly signals, "Here I am. Come murder me in the woods."

After a bit, Sarah stumbles upon this guy. This is Davros, and he's the worst of the Space Nazis. Or the best, I suppose. He's very good at being a Space Nazi, and to prove it, he's invented a Dalek. 

It looks like he's already had a go at making himself into a Dalek, but got bored half way through. He's only got the bottom half, you see. But his top half is just a regular person shape, albeit one with a hideous face.

Or maybe he was going to make all the Daleks like this, but then thought, Hang about! The bottom bit is great, and good for whizzing about and annoying Nyder. But how much better would it be if the top half was a massive turret with loads of guns sticking out of it?

It's a shrewd decision. If all the Daleks looked like Davros, you'd be able to see their faces. Which means you'd be able to see when they were anxious, or sad, or just not really paying attention. I think people would take them less seriously, and say, "I'm not obeying you - you look like you're on work experience."

Davros controls all the Daleks from here, on his built in desktop. 

It's never specified what the buttons are all for. I assume some are for Evil purposes, like "Make Daleks Shoot Everyone" and "Release More Wolves". Then there must everyday, functional stuff to do with going to the toilet and such. And I'm assuming that one is some kind of bell, used for summoning Nyder and demanding more sandwiches. 

It doesn't seem much, though, does it? You'd think he'd have an iPad or similar. How does he get any designing done? How would he lean over a desk to do drawings of guns and eyestalks? No workplace adjustments have been made! No wonder he became Evil. 

Davros takes Nyder back to see all the leader guys of the planet, so he can demand they make more Daleks, and make him king, and call him Super Great Science Best Guy.

He looks fantastic here, doesn't he? Really iconic and menacing. It must be very inconvenient to have to live in a Dalek Skirt all day, and it must start to smell after a bit. But worth the price, I reckon, to look this cool when you come through doors. 

Doctor Who is in this story too. He's on a mission, which is a bit unusual for him. Usually he just sort of collapses into a situation, randomly chooses a side to be on, and then spends the rest of the story being such a collosal nuisance that all the bad guys promise to behave from now on, and/or die.

Here, he's been sent to Change The Past. Apparently, in the future, The Daleks will become such a massive bunch of jerks that everyone decides it would be better if they literally never existed. So the Time Lords tell Doctor Who to go back into The Past and make them Never Have Happened. 

They give him a pretty open brief on how to achieve this, but it's strongly implied that he employs the most violent tactics he can think of, and that no-one will really blame him if, for example, everyone on the planet ends up crying and on fire. 

After a bit, Doctor Who gets captured. This always happens to him, generally because he's incapable of sneaking about and insists on bouncing into rooms and laughing and being weird at the villains. He's relatively unbothered about being caught. He's sort of listening to Davros, here, but he's also wondering what he'll do once he's escaped, and if this planet has anything resembling pubs or dog racing. 

Davros, meanwhile, is shouting excitedly at Doctor Who, who he has discovered is from The Future. He's asking what The Future is like, and are there robots that look like people,  and does he get famous for making the Daleks, and do they make films about him, and who plays him in the film, and does he ever get a girlfriend, and how does Nyder die?

Nyder and Davros have clearly had some kind of massive argument here, and it's hard to tell who is being more immature about it. Nyder, at least, looks like he wants to talk it over, even though that's probably just so he can use some of the passive aggressive comments he's got lined up. Davros is plainly just engaged in a massive sulk, but will definitely deny it if he's asked and say he's fine.

I can't remember what they're sad about. I think maybe Nyder is sick of Davros going on about the Daleks all the time, and what can they do that's so great, and when's the last time a Dalek helped him fill in a funding application?

Doctor Who makes a massive bomb which will kill all the Daleks forever. Here we see him with the wires that will make the bomb explode. But - oh no! - he's having an Ethical Dilemma.

Doctor Who doesn't know if he should go around murdering everyone, just because they might annoy some other guys in the future. This is quite a change from how he used to be when he was Doctor Who Number Two. He was basically a psychopath, and liked nothing better than to destroy entire civilisations and would often laugh hysterically while doing so. 

Sarah has no time for this nonsense, and is whispering, "Do it. Kill them. They're scum." Harry, meanwhile, appears to have only just realised what the basic premise of the story is, and is saying things like, "Steady on old chap," and, "Careful with those wires!" 

Anyway. Doctor Who doesn't go through with it, possibly because his stories with the Daleks in are often the most fun, and always the most popular. Destroying them would seriously hit his income streams, and also it would mean that the Cybermen would become his Number One Foes, and they'd be insufferable about it every time he saw them.

As it happens, the bomb goes off accidentally anyway, and doesn't make much difference. So the whole thing was a total waste of everyone's time. 

That's the end of this story. 

Sunday, 16 February 2020

I Made You a Mixtape - Autumn 1993

Back in 1993 I used to make mixtapes to play in my car. This was great for me, as I loved music and considered my taste in music to be amazing and without parallel. It was not, perhaps, so great for my passengers.

The advent of Spotify has meant that I can revisit this wonderful dynamic. I'm recreating, as best as I can, those early C90 cassettes full of carefully curated pop hits. Except now you don't even need to get into my car to enjoy them. They're right here!

This one is from my first year out of college, living in a shared house and working in a LaserQuest. It is maybe the worst thought out collection of songs you will ever hear.

You can play bits of the songs below, or engage with the full horror here: Autumn 1993

Here's the listing. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Too Much Information - Duran Duran

This is a pretty good opener, actually. This is a great album, and one I played to death as Summer faded into memory. I was never much of a Duran Duran fan - they seemed too lightweight and brash during their imperial phase. This is great stuff though, and I'm still happy to listen to it now.

Demolition Man - Sting

This, on the other hand, has not stood the test of time. A terrible song that shows Sting at his worst. I assume he got this gig off the back of the amazing Ten Summoner's Tales album. Everyone loved him again, and then he went and did this. Turgid, aimless drivel.

Sting is at his absolute worst when he's trying to sound hard.

Don't You Forget About Me - Simple Minds

And then, bang, we're back on top, with one of the best pop songs ever. If only I'd left Demolition Man out, this would be a great tape, and people riding in my car would have said, "Get a load of this cool guy!"

Thinking about it, did I even have a car, at this point? No. I've just remembered that I didn't. I sold it to the man across the street from my girlfriend's house, and then moved out the same day. I can still see him, watching me with suspicion as I walked up the street with a suitcase, and he tinkered with his appalling new car.

This song perfectly nails the feeling of being in love, with the world open before you like a never ending Summer sky. Even at 22, I felt like I'd missed out on being young, so songs like this allowed me some vicarious pleasure.

In The Valley - Midnight Oil

Not the best song from this album. I'm pretty sure it was just a single, a "50p Our Price Bargain Bin" purchase, bought because I was wandering round town trying to work out what to do with myself. If you buy a CD, you've given some purpose to the day, you see.

Michael Caine - Madness

Ah, this is great. I seem to be going for a "Good one/Bad one" sequence.

This song doesn't remind me of '93, so much. It's more rooted in its time of release, which I'm guessing is mid 80s. Madness were my first real love, and this song marked a shift in tone that mirrored my own awkward adolescent growth pains.

They'd always been bouncy, crazy, endearing scamps, with music designed for running up and down like a lunatic. And then there was this peculiar thing. Dark and melancholy, but still with Madness's offbeat whimsy and ear for melody.

In retrospect, this was the perfect backdrop for a teenage boy who had built a persona entirely out of quirks and slapstick, but felt dark emotions uncurling inside. Like all teenagers, I didn't know what to do with these feeling, and so probably just became more of a jerk. But at least Madness seemed to know what was going on.

Tongue Tied - The Cat

I'm very sorry.

In my defence, Red Dwarf was very popular at this time. It had been required communal viewing in college rooms, where everyone would gather round someone's portable TV and spend the rest of the evening quoting half remembered catchphrases from Kryten.

For our shared post -university household, Red Dwarf had become something of a mythic text. We watched and rewatched, memorising huge swathes of the script and becoming increasingly insufferable as a result. People who didn't know or care about the show would look on with pity and/or anger as we responded to everything they said by bouncing up and down and saying things like, "Ah, Space Directive 352!" and laughing to ourselves.

Anyway. One day they released this single, and I was in town, and I thought, "How cool will it be if I return to the house with this?"

The answer was, "Not."

Losing My Religion - REM

In '93 I probably mapped the meaning of this song onto my experience of Christianity, and it became part of the never ending tangle of thoughts about whether I actually liked being part of a religion or not.

I don't think it's about that, though.

Fool's Wisdom - Malcolm and Alwyn

Now, this isn't quite the version that was on the original tape. Sorry about that. The version I had was by two other guys and doesn't appear to exist anywhere. But I also liked this version, and I think it's close enough to count.

It's a lovely bit of a song, and I used to enjoy trying to play the descending guitar part when I was first learning how music worked. But it's another of those songs that I'm a bit embarrassed about now.

The whole tone of the song, and indeed most of the Christian music I liked at that time, seems pretty patronising now. It's built on the assumption that Christians know all this cool, universally significant stuff, while non-believers are just a bunch of jerks who really need to get their act together.

Experience was definitely proving this to be absolute bollocks.

Extra minus points for the verse that goes "Hey hey, what a day." Which just sounds like someone realising they have 30 seconds to finish writing the song.

Another Day in Paradise - Phil Collins

This is one of those songs that is literally there because I had to fill up space on the tape. One of my housemates had a Phil Collins album, and I deemed this to be the least worst song on there.

Which all sounds very defensive, now I come to type it out. Sorry. Wonder why that is?

It's not a bad song, I suppose. I guess it gets a bit of stick for its well meaning, hand wringing, do-gooder tone. Phil Collins fell into that "Sting/Bono" bracket of rich rock stars trying to sound hip while at the same time committing the crime of getting older and more thoughtful.

That attitude does annoy me. I very much dislike the inverted snobbery that renders music worthless simply because its popular, or has any kind of value system. It's hard not to slip into that way of thinking, and define yourself by how much you dislike, say, Coldplay, as if that makes you in any way cool or hip.

But.. it's not the greatest song, is it? It's definitely not one that earned its place here.

In the Air Tonight, now that I should have included.

Back to the Future - Alan Silvestri

A fantastic piece of music, providing an ideal soundtrack to life, adding Race-Against-Time excitement to the most mundane activities. We were very into this, in our house, for a number of reasons. But chiefly, I think, there were two strong events that cemented its appeal:

1. We played it while driving to the funeral of a friend's mum. We loaded into a minibus, raced down the M1 and yelled hysterically as we realised we were going to be late. Yes, just like in Back to the Future.

2. We built an entire church service around it. Back then, we were the 'young people' in our church, and once in a while they let us take a 'youth service'. The older generation rightly regarded these with horror.

The concept we came up for this particular service, in 1993, was staggering in its arrogance.

The idea was that the service would start as normal. Then I - being Doc Brown - would charge up the aisle, stop the service and start yelling about the future. The conceit was that I was from a version of the future where this particular church sucked and was really unpopular, because they had just kept running the church in the awful way they were doing things now.

Luckily for everyone, I had come back to tell them all how to change the entire way they did things, to avoid this terrible catastrophe.

As I recall, the first five minutes ended with someone saying "But what about the order of service," and me turning to the already-very-angry congregation and declaring, "Where we're going, we don't need an order of service!" Cue the Back to the Future Theme!

(I Can't Help) Falling in Love With You - UB40

I have absolutely no idea what possessed me to put this track on. It's just terrible, in every respect. I don't think I even liked it then.

If I ever develop time travel for real I'm going to go back to 1993 and do two things. First, I'm going to go to that church service I mentioned above and shout, "I actually am from the future, and this is all pretty much accurate." Then I'm going to ask my younger self why he put this song on this tape.

Stick It Out - Right Said Fred

Ugh. I mean, what is wrong with me?

It was for charity, I guess. But that doesn't excuse putting it on here. I suppose you should at least give me credit for being honest, and putting it on this reconstruction, when I could have just pretended it was never there.

Shiny Happy People - REM

Is this song any good? I honestly don't know any more. It's so ubiquitous. And it appears to be mostly ironic. So even if I'm enjoying it, I don't know if I'm meant to be, so I feel bad about it.

And his voice is quite whiny, isn't it?

It's quite fun to listen to, though. So maybe I do like it.

All The Things She Said - Simple Minds

This is a pretty good song, and I wish more songs were like it.

There's something a little weak about the production of Simple Minds songs though, isn't there? The bit where the guitar kicks in could be a really strong moment, but it's so low in the mix, without any real attack, that it just seems underpowered.

Stadium rock was not a good development for anyone. Interesting bands surrender their idiosyncrasies and start to build songs around Big Moments rather than letting them breathe. Songs like this are lovely, but you can't help but feel the push towards hand waving triumph. And for some reason that annoys me.

It's Probably Me (live) - Sting

This comes, I think, from that Demolition Man CD. I really got my 50ps worth from those bargain bins.

The live versions of the songs from Ten Summoner's Tales are excellent. I went to see Sting twice around this time, and was always amazed by the interaction of the musicians he assembled. I also had a video that purported to be the making of the album, where we were treated to live versions of the songs, played in a country farmhouse by the band.

I love watching music being made, and this live version really lets you hear the musicians doing their thing.

A Day in the Life (live) - Sting

At this point in the construction of my mixtapes, I was very concerned that the songs flowed into one another. I couldn't bring myself to cut into the applause at the end of the last track, so I let it run into this one (which does fade at the end, so it's OK).

I think this was my first real introduction to this (brilliant) song. I must have heard it before. I listened to Sergeant Pepper a fair bit in 87, when everyone was excited about its 20th anniversary. But I guess it didn't sink in, until I heard this.

It's not the best version ever. But it introduced me to an amazing piece of song-writing , so lets give it credit for that at least.

Endgame - REM

We're getting towards the end of the tape, now, and you can probably tell. Nothing wrong with this, of course. It's delightful.

My main memory of this comes from much later, in 1999. I went to see Marillion play in Manchester, with a small group of ladies (my life was very exciting at this point). Before the show, this song came on over the PA and the four of us started humming along, and swaying. It was a glorious, happy moment of unity and warmth.

Perfect Day - Lou Reed

Pre-Trainspotting and BBC adverts, this was just a lovely, weird album track, as far as I was concerned. I'm a big fan of enjoying the little moments, and expressing low key, offbeat sentiments.

Now, of course, I can't hear it without automatically doing all the Bowie bits from the BBC version.

Ordinary World - Duran Duran

Why is this so late in the listing? It's not only the best song on this playlist, it's one of my favourite songs ever. A gorgeous, sweeping piece of romance and melody, with a sublime guitar break than builds and breaks and soars out of the middle eight.

Ah. So glorious.

It Must Be Love - Madness

OK, I was wrong. This is the best song on the playlist.

I now realise what my younger self was up to with that REM song a few tracks ago. It was a deliberate pause, to give us chance to regroup for this fantastic last act.

Turns out that when I look like I'm being incredibly stupid, I am, in fact, just playing a long game that everyone else is too blind to see.

Let's say that, shall we? And forget about the Right Said Fred thing.

Until The End of the World - U2

A very good lyric, and a solid piece of song-writing all round. Let down somewhat by muddy production. However, as we have established, my love for U2 at this time was all consuming. We will be listening to them for a long time to come.

Some of that time will be deserved. Achtung Baby is a great album. But I'm not sure this is quite the killer finale that I thought at the time.

Shotgun - Duran Duran

On the original C90, this little piece of nonsense fit pretty much exactly on the remaining bit of space before the tape ran out. So that's why it's here.

There you go. That's the tape. It's a mixed bag, I grant you.

If you're interested in the tape I made before this, go to Summer 1993.

Friday, 31 January 2020


A poem. For a country. And for a friend.


There’s a growing silence in my left ear
I’m missing the highs and losing the lows 
Since you let go and left me here

The frequency diminishing
As we drifted through our final year
Now what remains of me
Remains unclear

I used to know precisely where to stand
I’d look to the stars or at the ring on my hand
Or I’d look to you, to see where you found your rest
And position myself 
Slightly to the left

I’ve a coldness in one hand, a weakness down one side, 
When I check these symptoms
Online I find a thousand lies
You’re just getting older
Or trapped a nerve in your sleep
Or it’s a stroke or a heart attack
Or a deficiency of vitamin D

I’m angry but it comes out slowly
Misdirected and badly aimed
I’ve drifted in and out of you 
Across these final days
From standing together to standing alone
The inevitable approach of a change

And one of us left
Somedays it seems like you, 
Today I feels like I’m the one no longer here
Either way it’s colder than it was
This time last year