…and hello 2022!

Geth and I did do a New Year’s Day parkrun this morning but I’ll save my regularly scheduled parkrunday post for tomorrow. Lots of 2022 stuff to discuss today!

This year’s non-binding New Year Resolutions:

  • Sort out the house. It didn’t happen last year and it may not happen this year, but I would at least like to get some more stuff up on the walls (including that spice rack I bought a year ago) and work out a more manageable cleaning schedule.
  • Don’t book any midweek trips away and assume I can just ‘squeeze any work in’. I’m far too busy to be away during the week. Trips will be weekend-only with very rare exceptions.
  • Get one or two of my years-in-the-making longer game projects published by focusing on those rather than short things for jams and competitions.
  • Use the skills from my TechUP course to build at least two fairly complex websites.
  • Create some games using Python!
  • Take another big chunk off my marathon PB at the Edinburgh Marathon in May.
  • Get back to the fitness level I was when everything screeched to a grinding halt in March 2020.
  • Get my parkrun ‘different events’ total up to at least 30, continue to volunteer once a month, get my Wilson index to 15 (geeky – don’t worry if you don’t know what that is) and take part in parkrun every possible parkrunday!
  • Listen to more music and keep a closer eye on what’s going on with synthwave, industrial and heritage artists.
  • Actually leave the UK for the first time in four years (Ireland is the plan… not going far but it’ll be something!).
  • Catch up with what’s been happening with Doctor Who. It’s my favourite TV series but I’ve drifted away from the fandom over the last few years as I’ve been busy with other things and haven’t been hugely fond of the Whittaker/Chibnall era. I’m about two and a half series behind!
  • Finish all the books I’m reading. I’ve got into an awful habit over the last year where I start a book, read it for a week or so (last thing at night in bed is my reading time), neglect reading for the following week or so (because I’m anxious about not getting enough sleep if I read… even though I know I sleep better if I do), then abandon it and start a different book. This year, I’m going to concentrate on one at a time and read them right to the end. 20 books in 2022 seems like a good target!
  • Make a LOT more time for videogaming by keeping my evenings and weekends free. My game backlog is probably 1,000+ now and it’s time to start whittling that down. It’s my favourite way to relax and I most definitely have not been doing enough relaxing in 2021, so this has to be a real priority over the next year.

It’ll be interesting, as ever, to come back to this post in a year’s time! I didn’t make any resolutions last year except the house-sorting one, which was kind of a fail… let’s hope there’ll be more hits than misses in 2022.

P.S. Happy birthday blog! Four years today since I started my daily rambles.

Shin Megami Tensei V
Geth’s current videogame (which he has been playing nonstop since Christmas Day) is Shin Megami Tensei V, which I got him for Christmas. I would love to spend as much time videogaming as Geth does, and in order to do so I am planning to reorganise a few things this year.

Phone Box Thursday: The Wrong Phone Box #4: Doctor Who, ‘The War Machines’ (1966)

It’s the final phone box from ‘The War Machines’!

This box features fairly prominently in episode four, as it’s right next to the location where the Doctor and his allies are setting a trap for a War Machine.

Doctor Who, 'The War Machines' (1966)
This was the first Doctor Who serial to set the tone for later UNIT stories, as the Doctor collaborates with the army to defeat the menace of the week. The phone box is a K2, which were (and still are to an extent) commonplace in London.

The Doctor Who Locations entry places this phone box in Cornwall Gardens Walk – which I could have figured out for myself in this instance seeing as the street signs are displayed fairly prominently in the episode!

Here’s the Street View image: 51°49’66.6″N, 0°18’89.6″W. The phone box is gone – there must have been thousands of K2 boxes in London originally as there are still lots in existence even after so many were removed! However, the distinctive garage door on the left is still intact, as is the lamppost behind which the phone box originally stood.

Doctor Who, 'The War Machines' (1966)
The Doctor in front of the phone box.

A rare sighting of the Doctor in front of a non-police phone box!

We’ll move onto a new Doctor Who story next week.

Phone Box Thursday: The Wrong Phone Box #3: Doctor Who, ‘The War Machines’ (1966)

Today we’re looking at another classic phone box that appears in ‘The War Machines’ – this time on location and thus a real in-use phone box.

This box appears later on in the serial, in episode four, once the titular War Machines are out on the rampage around London.

Doctor Who, The War Machines (1966)
War Machine vs. classic red phone box.

As usual, I used Doctor Who Locations to identify the filming location, which was in Charlotte Place, London.

Here’s the most up-to-date Street View image: 51°51’87.4″N, 0°13’58.4″W. The phone box is sadly long gone, but the Duke of York pub is still thriving (or was in 2019 at any rate).

Doctor Who, 'The War Machines' (1966)
The War Machine tries to attack the phone box!

The restaurant across the street is now the Rathbone Hotel, but the building next to the railings remains fairly unchanged. I love seeing how streets change over time! I just wish that all the classic phone boxes weren’t disappearing in the process…

One last phone box from ‘The War Machines’ next week.

Phone Box Thursday: The Wrong Phone Box #2: Doctor Who, ‘The War Machines’ (1966)

This is the first of three classic phone boxes from the 1966 Doctor Who serial ‘The War Machines’. This was the first serial that was set entirely on contemporary Earth (and in Doctor Who, particularly in the classic series, ‘contemporary Earth’ means ‘contemporary London’). As such, there are lots of scenes shot outdoors on London streets, meaning it was inevitable that we would bump into the odd non-police telephone box along the way.

The first example in the serial, however, was not found on the streets – it appears in studio footage (filmed either at Ealing Studios or Riverside Studios according to Doctor Who Locations) and was thus presumably a prop.

When the characters first emerge from the swinging ‘Inferno’ nightclub, their attention is caught by some strange happenings at the entrance of a nearby warehouse. My attention, meanwhile, was caught by the phone box that appears tucked under the arch next to the warehouse. How very handy for the warehouse employees!

Doctor Who 'The War Machines'
Some very suspicious-looking characters next to this phone box!
Doctor Who 'The War Machines'
One of the suspicious-looking men uses the phone box at one point.
Doctor Who 'The War Machines'
It’s very efficient use of the space under this arch.

Next week we’ll have a look at one of the ‘real’ phone boxes that features in the location filming for this story.

Phone Box Thursday: The Wrong Phone Box #1: Doctor Who, ‘The Chase’ (1965)

A new subseries of Phone Box Thursday today. This one could go on (intermittently) for some time!

Everyone knows about the famous police-box-shaped TARDIS in Doctor Who, but – as a frequent visitor to 20th century Britain – the Doctor has often encountered the red type of phone box too. I’ll be taking a look at these instances while I wait to be allowed outside again to track down more extant examples…

We start off with the first example of a classic red phone box in the programme, at the end of the 1965 serial ‘The Chase’, when the Doctor’s companions Ian and Barbara return to their home era (well, give or take a couple of years) and home city of London.

Doctor Who: The Chase
The police box is a regular sight in Doctor Who… but what’s that lurking in the background?

Spending the day doing some celebratory sightseeing, they find a police box (not the TARDIS), which is flanked on one side by a couple of red examples. The first red phone boxes (shown in black and white, but let’s ignore that) seen in Doctor Who!

The filming location, on Bayswater Road (coincidentally just around the corner from where I photographed my last two London phone boxes in November 2019!) was very easy to track down, as the Doctor Who community is a world of wonderfully in-depth geekery and so the useful site Doctor Who Locations is a thing that exists. Someone on there has taken a photo showing that both the police box and phone boxes were removed at some point and replaced with a more modern KX+ phone kiosk, presumably in the late 1990s when that design was in use.

Here’s the most up-to-date Street View image: 51°51’02.3″N, 0°18’80.6″W.

Make sure you click on the little clock dropdown in the top left corner on Street View, because the really interesting thing here is the story of the telegraph pole that you can see in the still from the programme. At the start of the 2010s, it still looked exactly as it did in the mid-1960s. However, over the course of the last decade, it has become gradually overgrown with ivy, to the point that by the time of the most recent image from July 2019, it was so completely disguised that you really have to know it was there in order to identify it among the trees! Given that it’s slap bang in the middle of London, I am absolutely flummoxed as to whether this was a deliberate attempt by the council to hide it, or just nature taking its course (and the council just went with it, due to the pole no longer being in use).

Anyway, this is not Telegraph Pole Thursday, so let’s move on.

I noticed when I was doing my rounds of central Edinburgh to photograph phone boxes in January 2016 that many of the red phone boxes were standing next to police boxes (Edinburgh and Glasgow have both largely maintained their collections of police boxes; the large rectangular police boxes that are particular to Edinburgh are so sizeable that most of them were turned into coffee kiosks in the 2000s, and have seemingly been doing a roaring trade ever since). Here’s an example in the Grassmarket. It seems this setup may have been common in London, too, when police boxes were still standing there.

Next time the Doctor visits Earth: we find a few more London examples. Tune in next week! (Presuming I don’t find another box for the main collection in the meantime.)

Filling the space

I did another 10k this morning…

…and managed a similar pace to Saturday, which I was very pleased about! I feel as though my daily training since the start of the year has sped me up in what seems to be a permanent way. I’ll just keep plugging away and see what happens.

I have most definitely filled up the routine extra time afforded by the lockdown now, to the extent that I’m not sure how I’m going to go back to regular life when this is all over. I’ve written before about how it’s going to be a slow process out of lockdown for me – I won’t just be jumping back into a routine of multiple classes and groups and meetups per week, because I think I would find that overwhelming. But the thing is that I’m not sure I ever want to go back to that busy routine. All of the individual things were meant to be fun, but taken together, they made life a bit stressful. As such, I think there are things to which I won’t be returning – things I’m going to have to learn to let go of. I don’t know which things yet. The only thing I know I will definitely be going back to post-lockdown is parkrun – it’s free of charge, it’s helpful for my running improvement, and I love it to death.

In short, my big takeaway from this year is that there’s no point spending time and money on things that cause me stress, just because I feel that it’s something I SHOULD do. As such, I’ve stopped buying all the magazines I’m not getting round to reading, including breaking my decade-plus streak of buying Doctor Who Magazine (that was a wrench… but I’ve just not had time for Who fandom for a good two or three years. I haven’t even watched the most recent series yet, which would have been unthinkable when I was in my twenties). I no longer attend every vintage fair in Newcastle just because it’s on (this is something I discussed in my personal style post the other day). I stopped going to Pilates and dance classes last year – I enjoy those things, but they’re just not a priority for me any more.

Learning to let go is something I’ve always found difficult, and something I discussed a lot in my counselling sessions earlier this year. I am a consummate hoarder, not just of physical possessions but also of memories and identities and personal connections.

(If somebody de-friends me on Facebook, I hold a grudge like you would not believe – because why would we want to lose each other from our collection of contacts? Collections are to be grown, not ‘culled’! We may not have anything in common now, but we did once, and why would you want to move on from that? Why would you want to let go?)

My identity as a Doctor Who fan is one of those things I’m struggling to let go of, hence why I am trying not to think about having broken my magazine-buying streak. My identity as a goth is another. I became goth in my teens, made all my university friends and met my future husband in the goth and rock society, spent my twenties in various states of consciousness at goth clubs and gigs and festivals, and then… I last went to a scene event in August 2018. I only still wear my old goth band t-shirts and hoodies because they’re comfortable. It’s been years since I last listened to the music – I prefer ’80s pop and soundtracks and synthwave now. I got sober, and so I don’t really like spending time in pubs and clubs anymore, and I think it’ll be some time before I can brave a festival again.

‘You do still wear a lot of black, though,’ my counsellor said when I mentioned this to her. I suppose I do – some habits are hard to break, and it’s a practical colour. It’s just… I just don’t feel drawn to that particular aesthetic anymore, and while I’ve still got a lot of friends in the scene, I don’t see myself wanting to go back to the events, and I don’t think I can really call myself ‘goth’ these days, and I’m not sure I want to.

Accepting that fact requires a big shift in thinking, though. Just like accepting that these days I’m a casual Doctor Who viewer at best, and accepting that there are some old acquaintances I’m never going to see or speak to again (and that I probably won’t miss them), and accepting that I really need to chuck out those manky old Ikea cushions I’ve been hanging onto since 2002.

I’ve never yet been capable of making that big shift in thinking. But it’s becoming more and more apparent to me that it’s a necessary process.

I’m videogaming again tonight. In recent months I’ve occasionally felt a bit sheepish about mentioning that every day – like it’s a bit sad to be spending all my time videogaming, even if lockdown does provide me with the perfect excuse. But it’s what makes me happy at the moment, and that’s all that matters.

Newcastle Town Moor
I ran on the Town Moor today for the first time since the final pre-lockdown parkrun. It felt strange, even though I’ve often done solo runs there before. While I was enjoying parkrun touristing in the months before coronavirus happened, I think that I will be back at my home parkrun on the Moor when it’s time for the great parkrun return.

Today’s earworm playlist:

Yasunori Mitsuda – ‘Where It All Began’
Nina Nesbitt – ‘Stay Out’

TV Review: Doctor Who: Resolution

We’ve had a New Year special episode before – The End Of Time part 2 back on New Year’s Day 2010 (nine years ago! that’s mental!) – but this is the first year since the series came back that there’s been no Christmas Day episode (to much grumbling from certain quarters of fandom), so this is the one festive episode we get.

After a prologue, where we get some backstory about medieval warriors dividing the body of a defeated monster into three parts and burying it at opposite ends of the earth, the episode starts off with a couple of archaeologists, Lin and Mitch, who’ve ostensibly come in to work on New Year’s Day but are really there hoping for a date with each other. It’s cute, but it’s better once their new find awakens and transmats the buried other parts of itself to make itself whole again. The two of them notice it’s missing and Lin goes off to hunt for it, finding a squid-like creature. Meanwhile, the Doctor and companions arrive and escort Lin and Mitch out of the premises (no psychic paper necessary for some reason).

Lin, freaked out, goes home, where it’s revealed that the squid creature she found is controlling her body and actions. The Doctor, meanwhile, conducts some tests and realises it’s a Dalek (which will be no surprise to anyone who’s watched the series before).

The Dalek-controlled Lin goes on the rampage, killing a couple of police officers, a slightly dim security guard (poor guy!), and a farm worker. Meanwhile, the Doctor and friends, including Mitch, track Lin down to the barn – she’s managed to fight off the Dalek, but the Dalek has constructed itself a makeshift casing and escapes after a showdown with the Doctor.

With help from the slightly unlikely figure of Ryan’s negligent dad Aaron, the Doctor and co manage to destroy the Dalek’s casing. Unfortunately, it then latches onto Aaron and threatens to kill him unless the Doctor reunites it with its Dalek fleet. She tricks the Dalek by sending it into a vacuum in space, nearly losing Aaron with it in the process until he’s saved by Ryan.

There’s a nice happy ending with Aaron and Ryan starting a better relationship, Lin and Mitch getting together, and the Doctor, Graham, Yasmin and Ryan flying off into space for more adventures…probably in 2020, so we might have another festive episode before that.

Characterisation-wise, the best bit of this episode is the arrival of Ryan’s dad Aaron, who was an absent but important figure for the whole of the 2018 series. Obviously this has notable repercussions for Ryan, as he feels at first he can’t forgive his dad but then becomes closer to him as a result of the adventure. This subplot provides some great moments for Graham too – in the absence of Grace, he’s able to provide some fatherly advice to Aaron.

I love Mitch’s reaction to the TARDIS! No matter how many characters do the ‘bigger on the inside’ thing, it never gets old in my view.

I also think it’s cute that the Dalek part gets awoken by UV light. That’s worth remembering. Another point that should be noted is that it’s still the case that people on Earth don’t know who the Daleks are. After the giant overblown Dalek invasion during the RTD era (The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End) where the whole Earth witnessed everything, there was some vague handwavy stuff in the Moffat era where the crack in Amy’s room ate everyone’s memories, or something, and so since then nobody in contemporary episodes has known about Daleks, except when it’s convenient, or if they’re Adelaide Brooke remembering the 2008 invasion in the 2059-set The Waters Of Mars, which was an episode released before the handwave.

A very interesting point is that when the Doctor tries to contact Kate Stewart at UNIT, the telephone operative says that UNIT are on suspension, pending review, due to funding cutbacks. I’m looking forward to seeing if this is overcome at some point!

There’s another cute moment (well, by ‘cute’ I mean by Doctor Who standards – there is also a lot of gratuitous death in this scene) where the army show up to intercept a ‘drone’, then have to run away when they realise it’s actually a Dalek. Another funny, if slightly unnecessary, scene is where the Dalek drains the whole of the UK’s internet and we cut to a dim-looking family horrified at the idea that they’ll actually have to talk to each other.

On the whole, this episode gave me a bit of an odd, discordant feeling – it just felt a bit too lighthearted for a ‘Daleks are going to destroy the world’ story. I did enjoy it though, and I’m a bit sad that the next series is such a long way away! I’d hoped that under Chibnall we might return to yearly series, especially seeing as the series episode count has been cut (again) from twelve to ten, but apparently it’s not to be.

As such, for the rest of 2019 I’ll be rewatching classic episodes instead!

TV Review: Doctor Who: The Battle Of Ranskoor Av Kolos

It’s the last episode in the series…but it’s not like any other ‘series finale’ we’ve seen since Doctor Who came back in 2005.

The Doctor and friends answer a call from a planet emitting nine distress signals, and find a psychotropic field affecting people’s mental state.  Protecting themselves with neural neutralisers, they rescue Captain Paltraki, who doesn’t know who he is, and find he’s being blackmailed to bring back an artefact by someone who’s captured his crew.  It’s the Ux religion (which consists of two members, Andinio and her apprentice Delph) doing the blackmailing – they worship a being they call the Creator, who turns out to be Tzim-Sha, the Stenza warrior the Doctor and friends fought all the way back in episode 1.  The Doctor brings back the artefact and confronts Tzim-Sha, who sends the Ux to transmit his Earth-capturing signal – he’s already captured multiple planets and wants to add Earth to his collection.  The Doctor and Yasmin break the connection and persuade the Ux to help them, while Graham and Ryan rescue the crew and send them back to their ship with Paltraki.  Graham stays behind, tempted to kill Tzim-Sha, but realises it’d be better to imprison him forever.  The Ux travel on with the crew, and the TARDIS team depart.  End series!

There’s some nice characterisation here with Graham’s desire for revenge against the creature who caused his wife’s death, and his eventual change of heart.  His relationship with Ryan has also been a really nicely done process over the course of the series.  I also love the fact that the two of them, working together, manage to imprison Tzim-Sha, despite the Doctor’s conviction earlier in the episode that he’d be too powerful for them to take on.  Unfortunately, Yasmin is a bit of a spare part in this episode, just as she was in episodes 8 and 9.  I do like all three companions, but this series really has suffered from the ‘crowded TARDIS’ problem that the show had during the Davison years, with the writers seemingly running out of things for them all to do.  Furthermore, I don’t feel like I really know the characters like I did previous companions – Graham is a great character, but Ryan and Yasmin still both feel a bit thinly sketched to me.

The return of Tzim-Sha is pretty much the only bit of narrative continuity we’ve had this series in terms of alien threat, and after thirteen years of arc-heavy series from RTD and Moffat it’s honestly felt completely disorientating, and made for a strangely sedate final episode.  What do you mean, the fate of the whole universe isn’t at stake?  Where’s the big epic face-off against the Daleks/Cybermen/Master?

And that’s the other thing – there hasn’t been a single returning alien species or character this series, other than the Doctor herself.  The last time that happened was the 1978-1979 series, which was the one with the Key To Time arc.  We’re talking forty years ago, when Tom Baker was still the Doctor.  I’m not saying you absolutely need the Daleks and the like for Doctor Who to feel like Doctor Who, but so much has changed for this series that it would have been nice to have had the odd nod or cameo (the polarity reversal in episode 9 was appreciated, but pretty much the only example!).

Still…no spoilers, but it looks like the New Year’s Day episode might be a bit more of a treat for the fans.  I’m so looking forward to it.

TV Review: Doctor Who: It Takes You Away

In the penultimate episode of the series, the Doctor and friends arrive in 2018 Norway to find Hanne, a girl trapped in a house and apparently abandoned by her father.  Fighting their way through a dangerous cave called an antizone, the Doctor and companions track Hanne’s father to a parallel reality called a Solitract, which is luring people from the main Whoniverse reality by imitating their loved ones.  After the Doctor and friends reject the Solitract’s tricks, the Doctor persuades it to let her go and accept its fate of being on its own.

We finally have an interesting bit of characterisation here – Ryan doesn’t believe Hanne when she says her father would never abandon her, presumably due to his experience with his own dad.  He later explains to Yasmin that he’s no good with kids, although Hanne does warm to him by the end of the episode.

I like the use of the classic ‘avoiding getting lost in a maze through use of string’ trope!  Unfortunately, the Doctor and co meet up with Ribbons, who is a classic creepy fantasy type monster (complete with beltful of dead rats) and thus feels out of place in the Whoniverse.  Naturally, he cuts the string, causing extra trouble for the Doctor.

When we finally come across Erik, Hanne’s dad, he comes across as the most neglectful father ever and I wanted to throw things at the screen!  However, it soon becomes apparent that he’s been bewitched by the Solitract, which has produced an imitation of his late wife Trine.

When the Doctor’s party arrives, the Solitract immediately sets about playing the same trick on Graham, which means we get the welcome reappearance of Grace and some lovely character moments when Graham finds himself having to make the choice to lose her all over again.

The Doctor explains that the antizone is preventing the Solitract from touching other realities, though not why it’s taken the form of a weird fantasy cave!  We also get some good old-fashioned polarity reversal when the Doctor finds she can’t get back through the mirror portal.

On the whole I enjoyed this one – I was expecting it to be a bit of a filler episode, but it was quite good.

Series finale next time…although in Chibnall’s arc-less Who, I’m not sure they can really be called ‘series finales’ anymore!

TV Review: Doctor Who: The Witchfinders

I was a bit dubious about this one, ’cause I thought it looked like a bit of a grim, depressing historical, but it was actually really enjoyable.

The Doctor and friends arrive in early 17th century Lancashire to find witch trials happening on the orders of a suspicious landowner called Becka, the widow of the previous landlord.  Things get worse when King James shows up on his own crusade against witchcraft and has no time for the female Doctor, meaning she ends up getting tried as a witch.  The strange happenings turn out to be the work of some aliens (the Morax) imprisoned under Pendle Hill, who were released when Becka tried to chop down a tree that was blocking her view (it was actually a lock).  The Doctor eventually traps them again and releases the bodies they were possessing.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on here.  The Doctor starts off by stating her very firm rule not to interfere with history (a nice callback to The Aztecs!) then immediately breaks it by trying to rescue an accused witch.  It’s also fascinating how the writing manages to elicit some sympathy for Becka, rather than just making her a straightforwardly evil villain.  King James is AWFUL, but wonderful to watch!  He’s played brilliantly by Alan Cumming – conniving and camp with a crush on Ryan.

This is the first time we’ve seen the Doctor actually suffering from not being taken seriously in female form, despite the fact that this series has already visited Earth’s past a couple of times.  It’s welcome that it’s finally been addressed, but it’s a bit overdue.

I love that they set the episode on Pendle Hill, the home of English witchcraft!  I’ll remember the aliens buried under the ground next time I’m running up the hill during Pendle parkrun.

Graham has all the best lines, as usual (‘Ezekiel.’  ‘Tarantino.’), but it’s yet another episode that’s very light on the companion characterisation for Yasmin and Ryan.  Somehow, I don’t think that’s suddenly going to change at this point in the series.

Back to the present day next time!