Wacko Jacko, Doctor Who & Barbara Windsor’s Bra

Shamone!

Shamone!

Let-down Central

Two of my childhood heroes let me down on Christmas Day. The first was Michael Jackson… There I was, cosied up on the sofa, a paper crown perched skew-whiff on my head, with a belly full of turkey and the telly on in the background. As I was flicking through the channels, I happened to catch the end of the This Is It tour rehearsals – MJ’s sell-out show that never did make it on the road owing to Jacko, well, moonwalking off this mortal coil.

The King of Pop

Back in the Eighties, when I was about seven or eight, Michael was nigh on a god in my eyes. Together with Madonna and Prince, he made up that mighty superstar triumvirate of pop which pretty much defined the tracklistings of Walkman mixtapes the world over – mine included.

He’s Still Got It

As you can imagine, I was pretty excited to see the King of Pop in action once again. I entered the proceedings just at the moment he was performing Billy Jean – one of my favourite Michael Jackson songs. He was pitch perfect. He was busting out those iconic staccato dance moves while sidewinding across the stage. God damn it, the guy was even grabbing his crotch. Not bad for a bloke in his early 50s.

Same Old, Same Old

But for some reason, I couldn’t help feeling slightly underwhelmed by it all. It was a case of, I’ve seen this all before. There was nothing different, nothing innovative about his performance. I think I would have preferred to have just watched a compilation of his old videos, truth be told. And that also goes for my other Christmas Day let-down which came courtesy of… the Doctor.

The Tardis

The Tardis

Disappointing Doc

I should have known better than to expect great things. After all, when it comes to traditional Christmas disappointments, the Doctor Who Chrimbo special is on a par with brussel sprouts and the plastic toys you get in crackers. And if that 50th anniversary debacle was anything to go by… well let’s just say the writing was on the wall.

Good Omen

To be fair though, it started off well – really well in fact. The story began with a pan-out to reveal an alien planet which, we were told, was beaming out a signal that was luring beings from around the universe to its Saturn-esque rings. An armada of CGI saucers, ships and spacecraft then swooped into view – the quality of which I’d never seen before on Who. With effects like those, I think it’s fair to say the show has firmly shaken off its bubble wrap image of yesteryear.

Wilson!

Wilson!

Cyber C-3PO Wilson

And it didn’t stop there. In the following minutes, we were treated to shrieking Daleks, Cybermen threatening to upgrade the Doctor and even a new sidekick – a kind of C-3PO/Wilson from Cast Away character that came in the form of a severed Cyberman head which apparently the Doctor had picked up at some junk market, reprogrammed and affectionately called Handles. And that’s all before the title sequence had kicked in. Flippin’ heck.

Madge

Madge

Benidorm Boost

Post dumpa-de-dums and we were seated around the dining table chez Clara. This was the first time we’ve had a glimpse into this companion’s family life. Granted, it wasn’t a patch on what we used to get from Jackie Tyler and co back in the Ecclestone-Tennant halcyon days but we did get some amusing one-liners from the rather wonderful Sheila Reid – AKA mobility scooter Madge from Benidorm – who played Clara’s gran. When the Doctor rocked up apparently naked, she looked at Clara and said with a wink ‘are we playing Twister now?’.

Too Good To Be True

But there endeth the fun and games. Much like the 50th anniversary special aired in November, what followed was about 45 minutes of dull storytelling tacked together with a desperate need to try and tie up all the loose ends that have ever existed in the Whoniverse. The result was a plot so convoluted and bound up in previous adventures that even the Big Bang Theory boys would have struggled to explain what the hell was going on. The edited lowlights run something like this…

The Church (think the intergalactic equivalent of UN peacekeepers) makes a reappearnce. I kind of remembered this group from a confusing story arc a few seasons ago that left me feeling a bit lost.

The Silence (think monsters that look like the Scream painting) make a reappearance. I kind of remembered these guys from a confusing story arc a few season ago that left me feeling a bit lost.  

The Crack (think a nasty Polyfiller job by a cowboy plasterer)  makes a reappearance. I kind of remembered this fissure from a confusing story arc a few season ago that left me feeling a bit lost.

You get the picture – this episode is so full of self-referential elements that you’ll need a masters degree in Who Studies to piece them all together. God forbid if you’ve missed an episode or two inside the past 3 years. And woe betide you if you’re a casual viewer tuning in for a festive Doctor Who romp on Christmas Day.

Regeneration Game

I guess, though, when all’s said and done, this episode is Matt’s Smith’s swansong as the 11th Doctor. Only he’s not the 11th Doctor. He’s the 13th incarnation. Lost? It’s another one of those confusing story arcs. Last one, I promise. As we discovered in the 50th anniversary special, John Hurt is actually Doctor No.9. That makes Christopher Ecclestone No.10 and shunts David Tennant to No.11. Oh, and he’s No.12, too. There’s some waffle about Tennant using up two regenerations, which I really didn’t understand or indeed remember. Anyhow, the upshot of all this is that, because a Time Lord can only regenerate 12 times, Matt Smith is actually the final embodiment of the Doctor. Got it? That’s why he looked like the bizarre lovechild of Benjamin Button and the grandpa from the Werther’s Original adverts towards the end.

Wip Off Your Wig Mark II

Talking of which, the BBC costume and make-up department clearly learnt the hard way that HD is a very unforgiving medium in their bid to add some years to Matt Smith. Honestly, the last time I saw ageing make-up that bad was in the French and Saunders ‘Lucky Bitches’ sketch. And don’t get me started on that scene towards the end featuring ex-companion Amy. I’ve not seen that many ill-fitting weaves in the TARDIS since that now infamous ‘wip-off-your-wig’ regeneration back in 1987 when Slyvester McCoy doubled up for Colin Baker.

Dull Death

As for this regeneration, it was really lacklustre. There was no shock factor as there was with the William Hartnell baton change. There was no heroic last  stand a la Peter Davison. There was no Tennant-style tear-jerking final moment. Instead, there was too much dialogue, not enough tension and a blink-and-you-missed-it changeover. I felt really sorry for Matt Smith. It was a really vanilla departure and frankly he deserved better. In fact, he deserved better since he first took to the helm of the TARDIS back in 2011. The root cause? Stephen Moffat.   

Complex Meh

Ever since Stephen Moffat took over the reins of Doctor Who, I’ve felt a bit let-down. Each season I keep telling myself, don’t worry, it’ll get better. Trouble is, it just keeps on being a bit ‘meh’. Worse than that, the writing is becoming ‘complex meh’. But’s it’s not always been like that. Before Moffat ascended to the lofty heights of head writer, he was responsible for some of my all-time favourite episodes of Doctor Who such as The Empty Child, The Girl In The Fireplace, Blink and Silence In The Library. They guy is undoubtedly a consummate scriptwriter but perhaps more so when it comes to penning more compact one-off tales. I get the feeling he’s not as adept at churning out scripts en masse. And when he does, it would seem he gets all knotted up in his own storytelling. This is where the previous incumbent, Russell T Davis, came into his own. He knew how to keep things simple, accessible and fun.

Kenneth Williams

Kenneth Williams

Oh Matron!

True, RTD’s writing style was a little bit panto and maybe even a little bit Carry On in places. However, he was able to inject real tension and emotion into his stories, pulling on his previous experience as a soap opera writer. We really cared about the characters he created. I can still remember crying like a girl when Rose and the Doctor were separated in parallel universes and couldn’t get back to each other. What RTD lacked in sci-fi writing skill, he more than made up for in emotion and drama. And that’s what’s lacking currently on Moffat’s watch. He’s creating a drama devoid of drama.

Too Clever For His Own Good?

I get the feeling Moffat’s a very clever man. Perhaps too clever. What RTD did so well was to reinvent and repackage Who for mainstream audiences. That doesn’t mean he dumbed things down. He understood the value in keeping stories simple, filled with emotion and compelling instead of nerdish, cold and complex. His story arcs had a subtlety and lightness of touch to them that Moffat is yet to grasp. Basically, RTD democratised the show. Mums could dip in and out quite happily without having to be able to recite what happened in episode three of season five. What I fear now is that Doctor Who is veering back down the geeky-niche path. If we’re not careful, I’m worried Who will lose its hard-fought status as one of the Beeb’s most popular shows.

Ratings Success. Comprehension Failure?

Thankfully, the overnight ratings look good for Who. In fact, it was one of the most-watched shows on Christmas Day. But I’d be very interested to see whether all those people who watched it actually understood what the hell was going on. My hunch is probably not. Judging from the fan forums, it left a lot of people scratching their heads. Anyhow, looking to the future and on the plus side, we have a new Doctor – which is wonderful. Even more so given that Capaldi is a fantastic actor. Fingers crossed, with a new Doctor to write for, Mr Moffat gets things back on track again.

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Leotards, Lace Gloves & Pointy Bras

Madonna

Madonna

Our Glorious Leader

OGL turned 55 yesterday. In case you don’t know, OGL stands for Our Glorious Leader. And no, that’s not David Cameron. He’s more of a KBL – Kinda Beige Leader. OGL does, of course, refer to Madonna. And, despite her pillow cheeks, crow-like hands and continued dabblings with Kabollocks, she’s still the undisputed Queen of Pop. Last year alone, for example, she scored the biggest-selling tour, her MDNA album went to No.1 in 50-odd countries and her performance at the Superbowl halftime show went on to be the most-watched show in the history of American TV. This level of continued success is no mean feat given the increasingly disposable culture we live in. ‘Sticking’ in today’s fickle material world is easier said than done. But if anyone can pull it off, I guess it’s the self-proclaimed Material Girl.

Soundtrack To My Life

Like so many people, I’ve grown up with Madonna. In fact, it’s fair to say she provided the soundtrack to my childhood, teens and even my early adult life. And now, as a 30-somethinger, she’s still figures heavily on my playlists. Not bad when you consider she and I started out together on vinyl over 3 decades ago. What’s more, M has managed to survive in the ever-changing landscape of music while most of her contemporaries have all fallen by the wayside. The triumvirate of pop that was Prince, Michael Jackson and Madonna is no more: Prince disappeared up his own backside while poor old Michael went from genius to grotesque before finally popping his clogs. These days, Madonna stands alone as the last of the true mega-stars.

Genre Shifting

So what’s the secret to her success? Well, there’s that oft-quoted phrase, ‘she constantly reinvents herself’. While it’s a total cliche, it also happens to be true. Madonna realised early on in her career that in order to remain relevant you have to embrace change – or go one better and lead it. As such, she became a master of transformation, rooting out happening producers, keeping a close eye on club culture and continually updating her sound. Leaf through her back catalogue and you’ll see she’s ticked off just about every genre going: pop, dance, electronica, techno, folk, country, gospel, R’n’B, funk, power ballads, acid rock… hell, she’s even had a crack at Sondheim and Lloyd Webber. Admittedly, some of her musical outings have been more successful than others but one thing she cannot be accused of is being ‘safe’. While she’s always got into the groove, she’s never got stuck in one.


Style Icon

Each aural escapade has also been accompanied by a different look. The woman’s like a chameleon, having morphed from a lace glove-wearing punk in the Eighties to a high-kicking granny in a leotard in the Noughties by way of a conical bra-ed superwoman in the Nineties. And that’s before we’ve even thought about her stints as a geisha, a cowgirl, a gangster’s moll, a flamenco dancer, a freedom fighter, a bride-to-be and, oh yes, a hitchhiker in the buff. My personal fave was when she performed Vogue at the MTV Music Awards back in 1990 as Marie Antoinette, complete with powdered wig and bustled gown. Again, no-one can say that the girl doesn’t try to shake things up.

Long Live The Queen

For me, it’s this fusion of new sounds and styles that has ensured La Ciccone‘s longevity. Each time she’s released an album it’s as if she’s reborn as a totally different pop star. It’s a clever strategy – reincarnate yourself so people never have enough time to get bored of you – and certainly one that pretenders to her throne, like Britney Spears and Lady Gaga, have all tried to emulate. One thing’s for sure, I still love Madonna as much as I did all those years ago when I first listened to True Blue with my Sony Walkman clipped onto my belt. So happy birthday Madge – long may you reign.