Doctor Who: things you can’t unsee

Time for a bit of Who-related silliness now, as Andrew lists the things that, once spotted in an episode, you won't be able to ignore...

The other day someone pointed out to me that Matt Smith has no eyebrows. 

As a seasoned professional, I immediately did some research. Turns out he has quantum locks – sometimes they are there,  sometimes they are mysteriously absent, and sometimes they are sort of there but ghostly, like his lower forehead’s being haunted by caterpillar spirits. 

Then, that weekend, it was all I could see during Nightmare in Silver. I couldn’t tell you anything about the episode other than there were lots of Matt Smiths and I kept staring at the void where his eyebrows should be, were, and sort-of-were-if-you-squinted. Consequently I had to use Twitter as a barometer for the episode’s quality. Some seemed to think it was less fun than watching a kitten being ironed, but none of the thousands of helpful mini-reviews mentioned Matt Smith’s eyebrows. Turns out Tumblr has already made a big deal out of this anyway and I’ve just been out of the loop. Curses. 

So, as nothing more than a petty revenge against humankind, I’ve listed more things for folk to notice so hard and so fast they forget where they are or what episode they’re watching. I’m a simple man, let’s start with a classic:

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5. The Master’s Musical Staircase


The Death Zone on Gallifrey. It looked suspiciously like bits of Wales before looking suspiciously like bits of Wales was cool. What a hipster. Anyhow, it is introduced to us in a series of moody shots with a blaring synth-brass motif that effectively sets the appropriate tone of fear and dread. At its centre is the Tomb of Rassilon – in the Tower of Rassilon – where players of the Game of Rassilon are heading for. 

The Master is there too, because it’s the Twentieth Anniversary story The Five Doctors, and you’ve got to have the Master, haven’t you? He’s having a mixed time of things, losing his teleportation device and clubbing the seal of the High Council, but making Cybermen neigh themselves to death on chessboards. Swings and roundabouts. Also, it is he rather than the Daleks who come a cropper courtesy of a staircase. 

Not content with an ambiguous squeaking noise (did it come from the wooden set, or did it come from a suppressed renegade bumgust?), the Anthony Ainley incarnation of the Master’s camp value is forever set to Stun as he descends the stairs in perfect time to the jaunty accompanying score. Soon you too will be scampering down steps humming prime cuts of Peter Howell as you go. Any descent that remains unaccompanied will leave you bereft. You’ll need cheering up. Time for some slapstick.


4. Falling Down/A Brief History of Split Trousers


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If there is an aspect of Doctor Who that remains unappreciated, it is the Art of Falling Acting. The key thing is NOT TO FALL. I can’t stress that enough. They key is to act like you’re falling – irrespective of whether you’ve just slipped on your own shoelaces or been bested in combat by some rascal with an Impulse Laser – but not to actually fall. You too can indulge in the Art of Falling Acting in the comfort of your own hovel using these simple tips: 

A. Squat down gently as if you’re not sure the floor’s safe.

B. Slowly slump sideways. Time is not of the essence.

C. Fold yourself foetal at a speed that makes passers by assume you’re a time-lapse photograph. The important things is that you are comfortable.

D. Relax. Breathe as conspicuously as possible, especially if you are meant to be dead. 

Occasionally, we hit the mother lode, and someone reclines so awkwardly that their trousers fall apart. Doctor Who‘s golden era for pant-splitting mayhem was undoubtedly Season 17. Not only do we have the Mandrels’ wearing long-johns beneath their scales, but the stompy, shouty, ‘WEAKLING SCUM!’ bellowing pilot in The Horns of Nimon manages to make his death scene very undignified by doing some textbook Doctor Who Falling Acting and showing us the stitching has gone on his trousers. 

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Still, it was a time of heavy inflation, budgets were tight, and no-one watches Doctor Who just for the craic.


3. Homo Reptilia vs Recreational Drug Use


While Nightmare on Eden might be unflinching in its anti-drugs message, a more subtle condemnation of the effects of marijuana comes in Season 21’s Warriors of the Deep, where every single enemy combatant appears to be operating at two fifths of the speed of the human characters. The Silurians’ introductory scene features dialogue delivered in the style of a particularly sluggish grindstone, or an old computer game that’s having trouble loading. In a gripping scene, it later takes about five seconds for one of the Noble Silurian Triad to reach down and press a button. We then see the Sea Devils attacking an undersea base at the speed of moss. Finally, we have the Myrka with its little goatee beard and unfortunate reaction to bright lights, staggering along the corridors in search for some munchies. Kids, Warriors of the Deep is saying, look at these obviously high Doctor Who monsters. You want them to be scary and to carry a remotely potent threat, don’t you? Well they can’t if they’re this far gone. Say no to drugs. 

There should have been another way. If only the Doctor had had some Jaffa Cakes in his coat pocket.


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2. Eighties Cybermen Were a Bit Blokey


Earthshock may also feature a member of the production team in the background of several shots, but it also features a scene which is harder for Cyber-purists to explain away. When the gungest of the gung ho, Captain Shouty Moustache, is ready to zap a pair of Cybermen into oblivion, he uses his army training to wait for the optimum moment and mount a surprise attack. The optimum moment, in this case, is when the two Cybermen are mid-conversation, and gesturing like sloppy Eastenders extras trying to pull focus in a pub scene. 

We will never know what they were talking about, because they are then shot by Shouty Moustache and Tegan. Still, for one very wrong moment, we caught a glimpse into the tedious monotony of being a ruthless, implacable logic-driven cyborg, and how it’s good to break it up with conversations with your fellow homogeneous nightmare along the lines of ‘The trouble with Arsenal is that they try to walk it in,’ and ‘Did you see that ludicrous display last night?’ 

See also: Attack of the Cybermen. After making the endearingly stupid decision to leave the Doctor in a room with exactly the right amount of explosives, the Cybermen who discovers that doom awaits them all indicates this atypically for an emotionless relic of humanity, and makes a motion to his colleague as if to say ‘Oh corks, it’s a bomb. Leg it Derek!’


1. The Eighth Doctor Loves Falling Off Stuff


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I haven’t read all the Eighth Doctor books, or heard all of Paul McGann’s Big Finish work, but I do know this: the stories I have experienced are very keen to feature the Eighth Doctor propelling himself downwards through a variety of means. 

In his one TV outings, he and Grace abseil down the Institute of Technological Research and Advancement. 

In the only New Adventure to feature the Eighth Doctor, he escapes an exploding Ice Warrior spaceship ten kilometres above London by cleverly being thrown out of the cargo bay. 

In a Big Finish series finale, he goes a bit Reichenbach Falls on our asses. 

In the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip, he falls into a living sun because an ambiguous robot gave him a shove. 

In the BBC Book Range, he is last seen jumping into the Vore hive to save the Earth. These are but a few of the many examples you will find of the Eighth Doctor getting knocked over, spilled, or pushed off of spaceships. Maybe one day someone will write a definitive list. It’s the reason to  join Tumblr that I’ve been waiting for.

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