Watching Twice Upon A Time

Before I start, there won’t be a blow by blow account of the story but it’s not really possible to discuss the 2017 Doctor Who Christmas special Twice Upon A Time without… well, spoilers sweetie. There have been a few days since it was originally broadcast – I’ve already watched it twice, three times if you include the slightly skippy run yesterday to scavenge images from iPlayer – but, if you haven’t already seen it, carrying on might give away things you were trying to avoid before watching.

First off, as a long-serving Doctor Who fan – who was there in the “the wilderness” after cancellation, through the darker tones of New Adventures books and dashed hopes after the TV movie wasn’t picked up – I am a sucker for a multi-Doctor story. The fanboy in me just adores them and my Beloved had to literally suffer me screaming like a horror movie victim when the first Doctor appeared at the end of the last season because, despite my attempts to avoid spoilers beforehand, I’d heard rumours about David Bradley returning for Christmas and was only an organised religion away from praying it was true.

The main theme throughout was death; both of the Doctors were edging inexorably towards their regenerations despite railing against it, the Captain slowly coming to realise that his number was up having being snatched out of time and Testimony is, in essence, the Doctor Who universe’s version of the afterlife. That might all seem rather morbid especially for the time of year but Doctor Who is one of the few television programmes that can potentially carry something like that off and still resolve everything on what is essentially a positive note. The “Christmas miracle” was one of those moments in history where humanity did something positive so I was pleased that the writers didn’t alter what happened to give the Doctor credit, merely “borrowing” the event for a good purpose.

Peter Capaldi really shines as the Doctor, spending most of the story going from dark and brooding to full of joy before either rolling his eyes to the point they almost become detached or having his ego thoroughly punctured by what his former self just said. Mark Gatiss puts in a lovely, understated performance as the Captain who somehow comes across as befuddled and quietly frightened throughout whilst maintaining the stiff upper lip needed to support his moustache and Pearl Mackie as Bill is great as always, brimming with energy and asking sometimes difficult questions but also the voice of reason for those moments when the Doctor needs one.

But it’s David Bradley as the first Doctor who pretty much steals every scene he appears in, from the moment he takes over during a William Hartnell speech as the footage rather beautifully transitions from deliberately grainy black and white 4:3 ratio out to glorious 16:9 colour. It’s quite uncanny really; he nails the delivery and mannerisms yes, but isn’t merely doing an impression. I’ve seen a few people online complaining that the character is shown in a rather misogynistic light, but that tone is consistent with the original. My Beloved and I have talked about this and agree that we’d both rather see that level of accuracy with him subsequently being shot down by his future self or Bill than have those cracks be papered over. That’s the Doctor we get in the Hartnell stories so changing him now just wouldn’t be right.

As the Doctor himself notes, there isn’t actually an evil plan to thwart – most of the actual danger in the story comes from trying to find out what’s actually going on since Testimony insists on being rather vague until the Doctor’s worked it out for himself – but it’s still enjoyable to watch them getting to the point where they realise. Ultimately we knew where this one was going, but there were some lovely, tear-jerking surprises and references to stories past during that journey.Peter Capaldi’s final speech might be a little drawn out for some – it felt that way for me the first time as well presumably because I was waiting for the fireworks, but not on the second pass – but Twice Upon A Time was a solid story overall and a fitting final salute to the Moffat era of ‘Who and Capaldi’s time as the Time Lord.

We didn’t get to see much of Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor, but her entrance and rather abrupt, cliff-hanging exit were well done and I’m looking forward to seeing where she and new show runner Chris Chibnall are going to either take or indeed be taken by the TARDIS.

Workprint – December 2017

Keeping with my “schedule”, it’s the first Friday of the month and time for a quick update… and yes, I’m as surprised as everybody else that this turned up on time!

Rubidius is slowly taking shape, it completed its first proper loop – going titles page to game and back with or without passing through the completion screen with the presentation stuff mostly being placeholder code – yesterday and I’ve got the score counter in and a test version of the music Andy is working on playing in the background. There’s nothing new to show right now because it doesn’t look much different to the previous screenshot, but some proper level graphics have been started and, once I get a certain writing deadline out of the way, I hope to find a few days to draw and install some actual backgrounds.

There has also been some pondering over the idea of writing a C64 game for C64CD in part as a demonstration of how easy it actually is; since scrolling shoot ’em ups are my default state it’ll almost certainly be one of those, but trying to keep things as simple as possible to the point it’ll essentially be a more primitive but tile-based version of Warflame. I have a few interesting ideas about “features” and the thought of publishing it in some form is amusing (to parody a certain person’s suggestion of Kickstarting a book based on his blog) but most of those options still need feasibility tests and bespoke code. This might also end up as the final resting place for the tiles that’ll soon be pulled from Rubidius as well.

Workprint – November 2017

I’ve decided to try a few little changes around here; for a start I want to stick to a schedule (goodness, I used the S word and it almost looked like I meant it too!) so from now onwards all workprint posts will appear on the first Friday of a month like this one is doing. That probably doesn’t sound like a major shift to most people but, as certain editors will no doubt attest, I’m a teensy bit rubbish with deadlines and even worse without! At some point over the “festive season” there’s going to be a few other changes too, but those are still in what I’m rather euphamistically referring to as “the planning stages”.

As far as programming goes, the scrolling shoot ’em up Rubidius in progress for the Hex Files rewrite is coming along slowly but surely with the most recent feature added is the subroutine that preps the engine for the start of a level; previously it was hardwired to just one map and block of attack wave data but now it deals with multiple levels correctly… although that wasn’t the case for several hours! When the new routines went in last Sunday they worked fine with the first level but would start doing bizarre things that should have been impossible during the second, including glitching entire tile rows. Remember kids, always keep a track of your “set in stone” subroutines because sometimes…

In this case the background scroller spreads the load out over eight frames and a couple of missed RTS commands (which I suspect were left out when the colour scrolling was added to previously empty “slots”) meant that, along with the update that was meant to happen on a specific frame, one of the other routines would be called out of sequence as well. I have no idea why the problem only manifested on the second level map though…