On Her Majesty’s Marty McFly Scape

What a droll old cove that Christopher Nolan is. He claimed with Inception that he wanted to create the same kind of effect that Star Wars had had on him as a child. He had no idea, he said, what Star Wars was about when he went to see it for the first time, and that sense of explosive discovery was what he wanted to emulate with his first movie since 2008’s The Dark Knight.

Well, I can’t speak for Christopher Nolan’s childhood, but I do know that by the time Star Wars opened in Leeds (and I went to see it first pretty early in its first run) I already had the souvenir magazine, four poster magazines, the soundtrack and 65 of the 66 bubble gum cards.

I had read the novelization by “George Lucas” four times through. Man, I was pretty much word perfect the first time I took my seat in Odeon 1, and I was still blown away.

With Inception Nolan has done more of a job of emulating one of science fiction’s more recalcitrant movies: Back to the Future Part II. And I mean that as a compliment of the highest order.

Back to the Future Part II confounded quite a lot of its audience in 1989 with its stark refusal to adhere to narrative convention. It did quite a lot of literal retreading as the characters time-travel back to events they already time-travelled to in the first film, and then have to avoid meeting themselves. It is still an astounding coup of interstitial narrative, predating Lost by decades.

But what Back to the Future Part II has, beyond all other films, to make me love it is that half way through the film one of the characters brings things to a halt and has to draw a map of the film’s plot on a blackboard.

It’s not a monumentally complicated time tripping story, but from an original starting point several alternative presents and futures have branched off, and Doc Brown has to sketch out for Marty (and sadly quite a lot of the audience) exactly what is happening. It is an elegant solution to what could have been a problem. They side-stepped the whole issue in Part III by sticking everything on train tracks. Actual, non-metaphorical train tracks.

Inception does not go quite so far as to draw a map, but Nolan’s deft script never lets an opportunity pass to have a character tell you where you are in the nested oneiric realities. This is never artless, and is frequently useful, particularly as, towards the end, some of the sequences are taking place in a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream within what may or may not be consensus reality.

Not exactly like Star Wars then.

I cannot praise Inception too highly. It is not an intellectual movie in the way that Tarkovsky’s Solaris or Kubrick’s 2001 are intellectual movies, but if you stick Inception next to Avatar and let them compete as blockbusters it is quickly apparent which one has an informed intelligence behind it and which is a derivative linear spectacle.

Nolan has never made a film that is less than wonderful (Memento, the Insomnia remake, The Prestige, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight), in fact the only director currently working who matches him for consistent high quality is David Fincher. Nolan has a meticulous, assured style verging on the obsessive, and a repertory company of devastating power: Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy and Ken Watanabe to name but three.

I don’t want to write too much about the plot now. The film has only been out a matter of days. But I do want to enthuse about the structure a bit more. This is a script which has no qualms about adding layer after layer to the characters’ perceived reality, and that was a real thrill for me.

Although the Matrix won me round eventually (mostly through its uncompromisingly dense sequels) I found it hugely unconvincing the first couple of times I saw it. I couldn’t credit that the characters were raised from one reality to another, and just quietly accepted the fact without ever wondering whether or not there were other “more real” realities above that. No time I guess. Too much shooting to be done.

Anyway, it’s almost the first concept introduced in Inception. If we can dream within dreams, then why can’t we dream within dreams within dreams? Which is what they proceed to do, with abandon. I love the fact also that each layer of dream down is much madder than the one above.

The third one down is a brilliant and sustained James Bond joke, complete with convincing music cues, and it offers one of the characters an opportunity for heroism well beyond anything he was capable of in any of the higher realities.

This is above all great fun, and the funnest bit is the satisfaction of watching Leonardo Di Caprio revel in his transition from childish parvenu to one of the most flexible and interesting actors of his generation.

Oh and it reminded me of the terrific 1985 flick Dreamscape starring faces of the eighties Dennis Quaid and Kate Capshaw. I haven’t seen that in ages. Oh, Amazon…

***

Predators is a slightly different kettle of fish, can of worms, bucket of frogs… Whatever.

Bottle of newts?

The original Predator (1987) is a phenomenal work. A film which is actually beyond criticism. One which transcends its idiocy so effortlessly that if it doesn’t actually reach the level of art, it certainly reaches the level where it can look up art’s skirt.

In Predator an elite bunch of mercenary-types are sent into the jungle to rescue some political hostages. They are led by Arnold Schwarzenegger playing a character called Dutch, possibly a half-arsed attempt to explain his variably-penetrable accent.

“Vhy don’t you use the reg-uh-larmy?” he asks at one point.

Anyway it turns out the thing with the hostages (“har-stitches” as Arnie calls them) is a ruse. The soldiers get stalked and killed by an elaborately-mandibled alien bounty hunter until last-man-standing Arnie kills it. The end.

This bald narrative encapsulation makes it sound like pretty thin gruel, but believe me Predator is a master-class in action film directing. It is a key film in eighties American cinema and it is endlessly re-watchable. The characters are all fleshed out just enough for you to care about them as they become imperilled, but they are played by tough guys and wrestlers giving the whole film a semi-cartoonish sense of hyper-reality.

One of the mercs, the only one who isn’t an out and out tough guy, is played by Shane Black, the writer responsible for Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

The film was directed by John McTiernan who would then go on to direct Die Hard, another key movie and the primogenitor of an entire genre of film.

These guys weren’t just messing around.

Predator has had several sequels over the years. I am quite fond of the urban-set Predator 2 starring Danny Glover and Gary Busey, but it didn’t find favour with Predator fans generally and now appears to have been written out of the continuity.

And then there are the two Alien Versus Predator films which are perplexing to say the least. Sparsely populated with humans, the films instead rely on the supposedly thrilling spectacle of two feebly rendered special effects duking it out for an hour and a half.

There is a fundamental problem with these “wouldn’t it be cool if…” fight stories be it Alien Versus Predator, Batman Versus Judge Dredd or Cloverfield Monsters Versus the bloody Clangers. And the problem is that there can’t ever really be a winner. The status quo will be preserved and the tedious spectacle of the two parties scrapping at feature length is difficult to enjoy for anyone not quite far up the autistic spectrum.

With Predators (2010) the film-makers have junked everything from Predator 2 and the two Alien Versus Predator films and have made a direct sequel to the original. Fair enough. The obvious touchstone here is James Cameron’s Aliens (1986) which successfully inverted the shape of Alien (1979) whilst simultaneously providing a satisfying sequel.

Predators is not quite in this league, but it acquits itself admirably. Produced by the economical and energetic Robert Rodriguez and directed by Nimrod Antal (Kontroll and Vacancy) it avoids the pitfalls of hubris and grandiosity, functioning instead at a down and dirty level.

It was interesting watching this immediately after Inception. The Nolan film makes specific reference to the way that there is no transition time in dreams, that you are just suddenly there. And this follows in the film with scene after scene starting in the middle of the action.

Exactly the same happens in Predators with perhaps one of the most extreme in media res openings I can remember seeing. As the film begins Adrien Brody is plummeting through thin air, unconscious.

He awakens in time to deploy his parachute, and once on the ground realises that there are other people in the same position as he is. There isn’t much cocking around. No-one acts like an idiot and, with gratifying speed, we get to familiar ground. The eight humans are all killers of some sort (Spetnaz guy, Yakuza guy, Special Forces guy, woman guy…). They all come to accept quite quickly that they have been kidnapped, plonked on to an alien planet, and they all get on speedily with the business of being hunted by Predators.

It is a little bit by the numbers. Even though the eight characters are all pretty reprehensible the script, nevertheless, establishes an approximate hierarchy of worthiness. This will be familiar to anyone who is a veteran of stalk and slash films, and it will come as no surprise that the characters are then bumped off in order of nastiness.

It is, exactly what it purports to be. If you spend your money expecting a Predator movie then you will not be disappointed.

It is disturbing though how Adrien Brody, once he’s been roughed up a bit, starts looking like a young Jimmy Nail.

Predator Shoes…

***

Doctor Who news.

Everybody stop complaining about Doctor Who’s “inappropriate” sexiness now, please. It was ever thus.

My favourite Doctor was the third. Jon Pertwee’s interpretation happened along just when I was at the right age. And I had such a crush on his assistant Jo Grant (played by Katy Manning) too. There was something just very cheerful and decorous about her.

Katy Manning disarming a Dalek

She’s reprising the role in the next series of The Sarah Jane Adventures y’know.

Your undying enmity is important to us.

I don’t go to war these days.

Mostly I don’t have the attention span. I quickly forget what the conflict was, or I have a nice sleep and wake up free of whatever the resentment was in the first place.

Sometimes though, particularly if I’m not getting good sleep, something will rile me and I get all “a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do”. I’m always sorry afterwards. I get the brief kick of self-righteous anger and then the hangover of weary disappointment, and the big trek back to the life of inner peace and contented befuddlement that I prefer.

BT’ll do it.

In 2004 I took as much custom away from BT as I could. I moved my calls and my internet service to AOL and was left just paying BT rental for the phone line that comes into my home.

They did not take particularly well to being dumped and I was inundated for years with correspondence. Would I take them back? It wouldn’t be like before. They could change. Pleeeeeease. But I was hard-hearted, and my answer always remained “Nope.”

Then a few months ago, to simplify the line rental billing process, I gave my direct debit details to BT. Big mistake, because what they then started doing – without telling me they were doing it – was to start charging me for calls again. Just taking the money out of my bank.

They couldn’t have been more brazen if they’d been lighting cigars with my twenty pound notes and whistling “We’re In The Money” while they were doing it.

I noticed it on my bill this morning and thought to myself, “Crumbs. That’s not right. Better do something about that.”

What I have learned to do in early middle-age, is not to get on the first bus. The first bus is never the best bus. So I had a bit of a sit down and I thought about what I was going to do.

I said what you might call a prayer. Now the concept of praying is still a bit strange to me. I was brought up in a faith, but most of the praying I was encouraged to do as a kid was like some big mad Jim’ll Fix It list. “Dear God. Please fix it for me to have blessings on my family and friends and a space hopper and a chopper bike…”

I don’t believe in God, certainly not the weird, paranoid, partisan God of the theists. I mean that would be a peculiar entity to worship, eh? Don’t eat meat on a Friday. He hates that. And better sing him a few songs too or he’s going to be really pissed off. He likes being told how good he is, particularly in the medium of guitar-based folk music.

I’m not even much of a believer in the slightly more hands-off, woo-woo, power of the Universe God of the deists, although I have some understanding of where people are coming from when they make claims on His, Her or Its behalf.

What I do believe in though is the world outside my skull. I have faith that the things around me exist in a meaningful enough way for me to pay attention to them, and that’s what I’m doing in the process I loosely call prayer.

It’s a deep mental breath. It’s counting to ten. It’s making sure that my mind is fair and my intentions are good. It’s a mini, daily Copernican revolution where I try to come to terms with the fact that I am not the literal centre of the Universe, however much I feel like I am. It’s all I’ve got really.

So I did that, and I rang BT to find out what the story was and I found myself cast into some sort of hell.

Why are they so rude? Why are they so sarcastic? Where do they get the confidence from to flatly assert the opposite of something I know is true? And what is it about the first couple of bars of the overture from The Marriage of Figaro that they find so fascinating they have to play it on a loop for all eternity?

After a couple of goes of explaining what the situation had been, how it had changed, and asking why, I just suddenly lost the will to carry on. I thanked the BT person for their time, mentioned that I found their customer service extremely shoddy and even found a moment to emphasise that I didn’t appreciate their open hostility.

Then I hung up, annoyed at myself for reacting.

Still reeling slightly at what BT considers to be “customer service” I rang AOL. They grasped what had happened straightaway and said not to worry, they’d fix it. They even gave me a few months absolutely free and took my monthly tariff down by five quid.

I don’t know where the fault lies. The evidence seems to point towards BT but it might be AOL who dropped the ball. Doesn’t really matter. AOL fixed it. BT made my day unpleasant. Draw your own conclusions.

My final excess tetchiness expressed itself by way of a tweet in which I included the hash tag #BTfail. A few hours later I got an email telling me that BT are now following me on Twitter. Uh-oh.

I feel like I’ve provoked the Mafia or something. If I’m found at the bottom of Muirtown Basin, bound with fibre optic cable and with the Phone Directory stuffed in my mouth you know what has happened.

***

A better end to the day in the company of lads at a showing of Neil Marshall’s ebullient movie Centurion at Eden Court.

It’s Romans versus Picts as Belloq out of Raiders of the Lost Ark orders McNulty out of The Wire to take his legion (The Ninth) into the far North to quell the Picts. McNulty is betrayed by Camille out of Quantum of Solace, and his men are all killed apart from Mickey and the Next Doctor out of Doctor Who, that bloke from Inglourious Basterds and a couple of other characters to complete the diversity checklist. In fact the only way the surviving group of men could be more diversity-aware would be if one of them was a comedy robot sidekick.

None of them is.

It’s all a bit brilliant really, certainly a step back towards narrative sensibilism after Marshall’s previous movie, the sci-fi action cliché mash-up Doomsday.

Centurion has a huge amount in common with Marshall’s earlier movies Dog Soldiers, the jovial squaddies versus werewolves horror film, and The Descent (chicks versus troglodytes). Once the surviving group is defined and characterised it is subject to attritional destruction just trying to get home.

Marshall is gleefully obvious in his movie references and I enjoyed the Butch Cassidy, Assault On Precinct 13 and Star Wars nods on display here, but I missed the most obvious one.

It was only at the very end of the closing credits where Marshall thanked Walter Hill and Xenophon that the penny dropped. This is Marshall’s take on The Warriors.

I recommend it. It scurries along. The story-telling is fine. The landscape is magnificent. Most importantly, Marshall has found a way of fleshing out the story of the lost Legion of the Ninth that brings credit to both the Picts and the Romans. I had feared that there would be ignobility shown on at least one side, but not this time.

Olga Kurylenko sports an authentic Pictish pink bra earlier today.

Rage, rage against the re-standardisation of the format

Back in the mid 90s when I worked as a bookseller in Aberdeen we once took delivery of a new volume (the last I guess) of Dirk Bogarde’s autobiography. On the jacket photograph Dirk was captured looking relaxed – serene, you would have to say – in loose linen clothing alone in a vast room that looked as though it might be in a Moorish palace or something. There was some indefinable quality of the photo that had me and a fellow bookseller staring at it for a moment or two. A man, perfectly at ease, in an immense, tranquil, empty space.

“Wow,” said my colleague eventually in a tone of total wonder. “Where’s all his stuff?”

I live in a world of stuff. Books, DVDs, CDs, toys of little men off the telly, gadgets, games. It’s great. I love it. From time to time in the past I have cast off large amounts of it for reasons of space or money or carelessness, and it has always been a mistake and I have always come to regret it.

Stuff is not the way of the world now though.

I mean there has always been a large part of the population that doesn’t need to archive obsessively – normal people, they are called. They finish a book and they are quite happy to pass it on to someone else, rather than carefully shelve it (or more likely put it into a pile on the floor) with other books that are a bit like it. If they put their CDs back in the cases at all they won’t necessarily be the right cases. They watch a movie once, and that’s it. They’ll never consider seeing it again.

Cool. Fine. Six horses for half a dozen courses. Live and let live as Paul McCartney once so nearly sang. Barking up the wrong gum tree. Without a paddle.

But even among the collectors and non-casual consumers of literature, music and movies these days, stuff itself is becoming a bit passé.

The tipping point seems to have been reached where people are now happy to accept that information is just information. They don’t need a shiny disc or a papery cuboid of matter to “own” something. They are happy with a bunch of ones and zeroes on a hard drive. They are downloaders.

This was really hammered home for me when I was down in Leeds last week. I made my usual trip to the palatial HMV down there and, on entering, thought I’d gone into the wrong building.

Where previously there had been miles and miles of racking containing CDs was now a T-shirt boutique with a sideline in key rings, mugs, coasters and video game hardware.

The CDs had been almost entirely eliminated from the store and shifted upstairs and to the back of the shop in a retail move that will be familiar to anyone who gambled their entertainment future on eight track, audiocassette, Betamax, VHS, DAT or MiniDiscs. It’s the last stop before the goods are finally hauled off and broken down for metaphorical dog food.

I’ve known this day was coming. Anyone I know who’s younger than thirty finds the contents of my flat hilarious. Why would you clutter your living space with all that obstacling nonsense when you could just download it or stream it when you want?

And they are right! It’s a point of view I have some considerable identification with. I now “own” albums which I don’t have as physical objects, although with iTunes’ insanely anal digital rights management system philologists might like to quibble about my use of the word “own” there.

I have a Sony eReader and an eBooks app and comic reader on my iPhone.

I’m not against this. I think the technology is marvellous and lovely and totally seductive. I accept that information is information. Download it onto an iPad or print it on sugar paper with bisected potatoes. It’s the same information.

What makes me sad is the sense it evokes in me of my own mortality. There’s a new way of doing things that’s better, but I’m clinging to the old way. Life is like a constantly eroding sandbank where you get nearer and nearer the end just by standing still, and I feel in recent years that a big lump just dropped off the front.

In the post today I got the Complete New Avengers on DVD.

Nobody would argue that that’s the pinnacle of 20th Century artistic achievement, but it made me very happy when it arrived. I might have cuddled the box a bit.

***

Ghost Dog The Way of the Samurai.

What a silly goose I can be. For most of my life I have just assumed that I wouldn’t like Jim Jarmusch movies. This was based on nothing other than a misapprehension that he was a bit arty and up himself. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

I have had Ghost Dog sitting on my pile of unwatched gubbins for some months now. I bought it in a frenzy of snapping up Film 4 DVDs when they went down to five quid each. Having watched it today I feel like an idiot for not having got to it sooner. It’s spiffing.

It is a bit of an auteur experience in that Jarmusch wrote and directed it and clearly had an exact vision of what it was he was doing, but that’s not a bad thing here. Some auteur films are untrammelled idiocy which could have used the mitigating touch of a co-creator, but not Ghost Dog. This is a finely balanced mix of a bunch of indie movie mechanics, but also a narrative through line that most current Hollywood writers would kill for.

So the vision is Jarmusch’s but the film would be nothing without the immense Forest Whitaker as Ghost Dog the solitary contemporary samurai. At the film’s outset he is a solid, stoical presence: still, dutiful, silent and looming like a menhir. He provides a motionless axis around which everything else crazily revolves.

As the story progresses and he is spurred into his samurai duty as he sees it – full on apparently, no skulking round in the dark for your samurai – he becomes irresistibly telic, a gallant, code-bound version of an action movie hero.

There are, as befits an arthouse effort, spiralling digressions into friendship, age, communication and mortality, but it’s all done with wit, focus and considerable panache.

I’m embarrassed about my former Jim Jarmusch prejudices but they’re gone now. I’m on team Jarmusch. What’s next?

***

Doctor Who news:

There is some talk that Karen Gillan slowed up the queue in the Post Office here in Inverness by posting what appeared to be a “large parcel”, though this needs more corroboration before I’ll believe it.

Karen Gillan showing some decorum earlier today.

And finally: the great big 36 Hour A Day Tesco at the Inverness retail park has stocked up with Doctor Who figures again. I am reported to be very pleased indeed with my Ice Warrior.

Whither the Blinovitch limitation effect?

My most recent spell of post-romanticism has been characterised by my lying on my couch and staring at the ceiling. Now it’s a nice couch, and it’s a nice ceiling but torpor is just torpor and doesn’t make for much fun writing or reading about.

Also I have lost any ability to write that I might once have had. I mean check out that first paragraph, gangsta. Check it out. Two uses of the word “nice” and a preposition hanging off the end of it. That’s blooming crud that is.

I once read a book by Edgar Rice Burroughs – one of his Pellucidar novels, set in a mythical underground realm – which, even though it was quite short, had an apologetic note from the author as a preface. He was sorry to the reader, in essence, for the amount of scenery and weather he had put in the book.

Any scenery and weather in a book set principally under the Earth’s mantle is probably too much, but I didn’t feel the apology was necessary. Burroughs is Burroughs, and narrative chutzpah carries you through even his lesser work. This is why Edgar Rice Burroughs is a better writer than William S. Burroughs I think. You can read his books.

Sorry about all the weather and scenery here.

So, what am I talking about? The condition of heart-brokenness? Nah. Wouldn’t have a clue. It’s a bit embarrassing. It’s a bit painful. But worse things happen at sea, and anyway that’s suddenly a whole lot more PS3/Blu-ray time on my daily planner, surely.

Well it will be as soon as I’m done with the ceiling-staring.

A long time ago I would have gone off on a prodigious spell of drinking, backed up with a sheaf of self-serving justifications of byzantine complexity. But I don’t do that these days. I’m sure alcohol is still a perfectly charming molecule, and those who like it are right to feel free to enjoy it. It just does not, I concluded some time ago, agree with me.

The last time we had anything to do with each other, me and the booze, it was 2006 and I was absolutely clobbered powerless by it. It’s a funny old thing (in the hideously sad and painful sense of the word funny) is alcohol dependency. Alcoholism – let’s call it what it is. It can reduce you to a decaying, friendless, desiccated wreck, but it still seems like a roaringly good idea when you’re in the midst of it.

Hmm, you (or more pertinently, I) might think. I feel physically wretched, like I am actually going to die. That pain is in my liver. My eyes have the yellow look of very old ivory. I think that thing in the toilet bowl might be my stomach lining. You know what I need? A cheeky breakfast vodka.

Who wouldn’t regard that as something of a wake-up call? Sugar Puffs, milk, orange juice, vodka.

Well, me for one. Millions of other people for two. I had to get help from people who had done the same sort of thing in the past but didn’t do it anymore. I had to learn how to talk about myself (yuck, yuck, yuck) and listen to other people talk about themselves (boooooring). I had to set about clearing the wreckage of my past and minimising the rate at which I gathered new wreckage.

Luckily for me there were good people to help me with that. They weren’t difficult to find either. They are, as Craig Ferguson once put it, quite near the beginning of the Phone Book.

Thanks, those guys.

So no booze then. No sudden domestic or geographical lurches. Except I bought a trumpet. Anyway that is perfectly normal behaviour. Trumpet-buying. Turns out that when the mood came upon me there was only one trumpet for sale in all the shops of Inverness despite what my friend Kay might try to tell you about such clearly fictional enterprises as Trumpetland, World Of Trumpets and Brass Zone!

One trumpet for sale, but luckily it matched all of my expectations which is to say that it looked like every trumpet I had ever seen in my life, and it was priced within my trumpet budget for the month.

Hurrah for valve oil! Hurrah for embouchure (which is basically making a rude noise with your mouth)! But especially hurrah for the educational DVD I got! There is a furious urge within me to reach the point where my incontinent parpings are finally better than the pure, sweet notes the kid on the DVD produces.

I hate kids. They ruin everything. The film industry. Days out to interesting places. Trumpet tuition. You name it and I guarantee that a short, stupid kid with no idea about how the world really works has already spoilt it. Idiots.

The on-going trumpet adventure was a sign that I was probably going to be OK, but the sudden accretion in the last week or so of mind-bogglingly inane DVDs and comics has sealed the deal.

I have almost fully morphed back into the un-marriageable half-man half-compost heap that is my default setting.

Two of the movies I have just seen on DVD, Luigi Cozzi’s fabulously mad Starcrash and Thom Eberhardt’s low budget miracle Night Of The Comet, have reminded me how fond I am of the 70s and 80s. I hope to write a bit about them later.

But there is contemporary stuff to cover too. A thing that children have not yet managed to spoil in complete contradiction of my earlier assertion.

Since I last blogged – gulp – a whole season of Doctor Who has come and gone.

Can I talk a bit about Doctor Who now?

***

There, those three asterisks indicate where half my readers got on and the other half got off.

Doctor Who Season 5, or Season 31 as I prefer to call it. Any good then?

Yup. It was good.

Or at greater length:

Matt Smith is a tremendous surprise as the Doctor. Such was David Tenant’s authority that a few of the things he established as character traits looked as though they might become sine qua non attributes of subsequent incarnations of the character. The youth, the vigour, the sexiness, the gob, the insolence, the mania. These are things Tenant imported to the role but he did it so unquestionably that it is easy to forget that they aren’t typical of previous incarnations.

My concern, prior to seeing any of Matt Smith’s episodes, was that we were going to get more of the same. A string-thin young wannabe poncing round the multiverse shouting.

That’s not what we got though and I have to applaud Smith for running with the more spiky, almost autistic aspects of his character. Tenant played the Time Lord as a geek, but a knowing kind of geek. One who is aware of his own brainy allure.

With Smith, certainly after the regeneration trauma but before the series settled down, it was as though we were sharing the Tardis with Maurice Moss from the I.T. Crowd.

He, the actor, is playing down the looks (and he’s a pretty boy underneath it all isn’t he?). He’s happy enough with the improbable hair and the face like an unexpected ocean liner looming out of a fog bank. It’s subtle what Smith is doing. It’s long-game characterisation. He knows that if we stick with him we will learn to love him despite the alien angularity and the awkwardness. It can be a bit like watching Patrick Troughton, or Colin Baker if Colin Baker had been done right.

There has been some tabloid tutting, doubtless welcome by the writers, at how sexy the show is. Is that an issue? I was more surprised at hearing the Doctor use mild swear words like Bloody and Hell. That felt new and slightly transgressive to me. I mean I’m not going to dispute that there’s a sexual element to the programme, but what’s new?

The first time we met the Doctor in 1963 he was living with his grand-daughter. Over time we speculated that maybe that was just a turn of phrase or a kind euphemism to explain Susan’s presence. But no, the tenth Doctor talked briefly of having had a family in the past. So from Day 1 this is a programme which has at least acknowledged its title character’s sex life. The tenth Doctor spread it about quite a bit actually, certainly compared to the ninth’s slightly hesitant fumblings with Rose and Jack.

But in the classic era sex was never far away. Ian and Barbara? Ben and Polly? Jamie and Zoe? Harry and Sarah? Leela and K-9? (Though I might have imagined that one). And that’s just the companions.

Look at some of the Doctor’s relationships. The third Doctor and Jo, for instance. It was always that drip Captain Yates from UNIT who was asking Jo out, but she always ended up with the Doctor in the Tardis. And how upset was the Doctor when she left him to sail down the Amazon with that hippie from Wales? He was crying for God’s sake.

The Fourth Doctor and Romana. The Fifth Doctor and Tegan. The Sixth Doctor and Peri. The Seventh Doctor and Ace. Don’t tell me you never noticed.

The sexual undercurrents are not new then but I am pleased at the way Karen Gillan has asserted herself. For a while I thought she was overdoing the pouting, stropping and sulking. It looked, particularly when River Song was also in the picture, as though the Doctor was getting a bit hen-pecked.

The inclusion of Rory as the dithery, useless fiancé didn’t help at first, but stone me, as the series progressed and the characters settled down a bit it all started to work.

Once Rory had been written out of the Universe, re-incarnated as an Auton Roman soldier, redeemed and then reintroduced to the Universe as a human in the grand re-boot he started to become appealing.

The current Tardis line-up of the barely socially functional Doctor and the married couple one of whom is a voracious, lunatic, nymphomaniacal, redheaded Scotswoman is quite an exciting one.

Russell T. Davies always did a fabulous job celebrating pan-sexuality in his Tardis line-ups. This current one as constructed by Stephen Moffat could not be more heterosexual. It’s practically George and Mildred in Space.

That isn’t a bad thing.

There were a few things about the series that didn’t quite work I think. The whole story arc doesn’t make much sense once you start following it through. Time paradoxes can be great fun if you’re rigorous about causes and effects. Doing stuff because it’s flashy and then covering over the holes by saying something like “Timey-wimey stuff can be a bit difficult to get your head around” is unfair.

You could see it work well in microcosm with the gag about the Doctor accumulating the Tommy Cooper hat and Norman Wisdom mop we knew he had to be holding when he met Rory. It all fell apart on the macroscopic scale though. I’ve watched The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang through three times now and I’m embarrassed to report that I still can’t understand them.

And whilst we’re here, whatever happened to the Blinovitch limitation effect? I’m sure there was a good reason why you couldn’t keep crossing your own time stream and that was it!

A secondary fault was that there was a slightly solipsistic, constrained feeling to some of the episodes. The empty village in the Silurian two-parter for instance, together with the massive drilling operation manned by precisely three people!

Scale was a problem with the Big Bang too. What a tease Stephen Moffat is mentioning the Draconians, the Zygons, the Drahvin and then not showing them. What did we get? Three Daleks, a sack of Sontarans and some Cybermen. And what is it with these Cybermen anyway? Aren’t they from a parallel universe? Our home-grown Mondas/Telos Cybermen were much better.

Perhaps these underwhelming crowds and this absence of convincing background activity were scripting infelicities, but I’d be more inclined to believe that they were budget constraints. If that is the case then I will just quietly accept that the best job possible was done under the circumstances. Particularly in The Hungry Earth and Cold Blood. I’m glad that they spent the cash on tons of lady Silurian soldiers rather than human extras.

The Silurianettes brought about in me that same cross-species dilemma I had when I saw Helena Bonham Carter made up as a chimp in Planet of the Apes. I know it’s not right, but…

Yes, you would.