The latest thing that seems to be offending some people isn’t that Donna Noble’s daughter is trans. Nor has it anything to do with The Meep’s preferred pronouns. And it’s certainly not because of the whole men “letting things go” thing which caused more outrage than Oolon Colluphid’s Where God Went Wrong. No, it’s the heavy breathing in the new 60th anniversary Doctor Who theme that is getting a bit of attention – for the strangest reasons.
And not just that, people have sworn it’s somebody chanting “Doctor Who” over and over (it isn’t), or that the breathing is percussion instruments. But for me, because the theme uses a full choir anyway, it’s likely a couple of lead female choristers are breathily going “HAH!” over and over in time to the music.
Back when Peter Howell was composing the 1980’s synth version of the theme, he sampled his own voice and overlaid that at key points in the theme. It’s barely noticeable because it ends up sounding like an electric guitar and I hadn’t realised that until I saw the following video from the BBC Archive (see below) as to what it was.
I think the new thing organically takes that and overlays/incorporates it more than Howell’s did. In any event, this sort of thing isn’t exactly new. Has nobody heard of Kate Bush who used every trick in her vocal and instrumental repertoire to create bizarre and captivating music.
In any event, I like the new theme. The breathing rhythm gives it a sense of urgency – as if the TARDIS or the Doctor is running from somebody or some..thing. I also like the new titles too – but note that the BBC ident is now missing now that Disney’s money is involved with the production…
A week and a bit ago, I managed to pull a senior moment and fell over in my kitchen after coming back from the toilet and getting upstairs back to bed. I must have still been pretty out of it when it happened (was it the onset of flu?). But luckily, I managed to catch myself and avoided smacking my head against the hard tiled surface – but I did scrape my ankle and knee pretty badly (though the majority of it has healed now). My foot swelled up the following day which meant I couldn’t walk properly – especially if it involved shoes. And to make matters worse, I came down with the flu good and proper on the Friday too. Never has so much snot emanated from a person before. So, I’ve spent the past week mostly in bed blowing my nose every 30 seconds. Thankfully all is good (well, good enough – still bit of a chesty cough) now and hopefully that’ll be the end of that.
Some observations. When I have been awake, the only TV vaguely watchable were repeats of Blankety Blank (the new Bradley Walsh version). It stopped me from going insane, though I do not recommend the show itself. All I will say is they don’t make contestants like they used to. The celebrities were fine, though.
While I was away, a parcel arrived for me at work. I got a pleasant surprise when I went back to the office this morning in the form of an enveloped marked “From the desk of Dr. Rodney McKay”. For those that are not familiar with the TV series Stargate Atlantis, this was a sci-fi show that aired between 2004-2009 and set in the Stargate universe. Actor David Hewlett played the scientific genius, Rodney McKay, who would inevitably come up with something clever to get the team out of sticky situations.
Since then, David has written and directed several films, starred in a whole variety of things (including Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water). He also takes an active interest in all things scientific and geekery and runs something called Techbandits which encourages youngsters to get involved with science and technology. I whole heartedly approve of this as this is something I wish I had when I was a teenager. We need a new generation of geeks if we’re going to be able to tackle problems of today and that of tomorrow. As such, I bought two special Stargate related coins – one for myself, and the other for an American friend whom I met through David’s old Google+ circle social media thingy/YouTube. And here it is! I’m not a number – oh yes I am – I’m 3,661.
When I was about 8 or 9 years old, my father took me and some friends (neighbours) to Leicester Square to the first public performance of Back to the Future. To see the film on the biggest screen around (this was way before IMAX) was an absolute treat. Yet, for some explicable reason I wore a Gremlins sweatshirt despite never ever having watched Gremlins. I don’t think I saw it until AFTER Gremlins 2: The New Batch. I wasn’t a great fan of horror at the time. But I do remember loving Gremlins 2 enough to go back and watch the original film and loving it to bits. I lapped up the dark humour and gross jokes. It was absolute chaos. It was like the Muppets had ugly kids and they’d gone wild. And it was originally rated ’15’ before later being re-rated a ’12A’. Gremlins 2 was a ’15’ on video, but released as ’12’. Yes, it’s crazier than the films themselves.
So yes, I’m definitely a fan of Gremlins. I even read the novel of the first film which was even stranger than the original film. Its plot centered around an alien scientist who created the Mogwai to adapt to any environmental conditions. Things did not go according to plan, of course, and the Mogwai ends up on Earth, etc. etc. The whole thing sounds as if it was an early revision of Disney’s Lilo and Stitch.
Many, many, many years later there has been all manner of rumours about a third film, but nothing ever came to fruition. But a chap by the name of Tze Chun proposed a TV series which leaned heavily into the original movie’s Chinese roots (as Gizmo the Mogwai was originally found by Billy Peltzer’s dad in an old Chinese curiosity shop). It takes that and expands the backstory of Mr. Wing (the old man we see in the first film) and his family, growing up in 1920’s Shanghai (which isn’t a particularly fun time in Chinese history given the roots of revolution were being seeded, amongst many other problems). It also gives the Mogwai a decent origin story too – but I won’t spoil that, other than to say that it involves a lot of Chinese mythology (which I’m absolutely fascinated by – especially the incredible Journey to the West) that is heavily involved throughout the whole series. We meet all manner of strange and wonderful characters – human and otherwise – as our characters try to save the fate of the Mogwai and China itself.
The first thing to mention is that it’s animation. Just as well, really, as although I could absolutely see this as a live action series – the practical puppet effects and visual effects required would be a nightmare – not just in cost, but extremely labour intensive. I really love the style of the animation, it’s simple and yet complex, providing a lot of detail in the Gremlins and Mogwai alike. Great for kids and adults – which brings me to another point. This is a family friendly series, yet it does go into some serious John Carpenter territory – especially the main villain, Riley, who practices Chinese magic to the extent that he can absorb the knowledge of anybody by encasing them into a magical pearl, dislocating his jaw, and swallowing them whole. This is quite disturbing, and younger kids will definitely want their parents around in some of these darker moments (one of which is a Gremlin biting off the finger of a henchman and plays with it as if it were a cigar). But with these darker moments also comes the wonderfully dark humour of the first two films. The Gremlins, at their full chaotic madness, produce some genuinely good laughs.
Overall, the show has a decent antagonist in the form of Riley Greene and his henchmen (who he chides at one point for humanising themselves by telling him is name) AND the Gremlins. He has some responsible for some genuinely disturbing moments, but also is responsible for some of the lighter moments too. The voice cast features prominent Asian-American actors including the always wonderful James Hong, Ming-Na Wen (Fennec Shand in The Book of Boba Fett), BD Wong, George Takei (in an unexpected but so appropriate and wonderfully performed role), Randall Park, and Sarah Oh. All of them give great performances all round.
The music by Sherri Chung is phenomenal and provides a fantastic emotional backing to all the action that’s going on screen, and she provides the best version of the Gremlin Rag featuring traditional Chinese instruments that makes Jerry Goldsmith’s original piece feel right at home.
Overall, this is the story that we’ve been waiting for all these years and Tze Chun and his team (including executive producer Steven Spielberg who produces the show under his Amblin Entertainment banner and consulting producer Joe Dante, who directed the original films) have done an absolutely incredible job. And we’re getting a second season! It’s also gaining some very good reviews, too.
If you like this show, BTW, I also heartedly recommend Amercian Born Chinese on Disney+ – it too gives a big nod to Chinese mythology (and particularly Journey to the West) and as a bonus, also features Michelle Yeoh.
Gremlins: The Secrets of the Mogwai is currently available in the UK through BBC iPlayer, via their CBBC channel.
The above image taken from the BBC’s Mastodon feed reminded me of Back to The Future in which Marty McFly and Doc Brown are dressed in their hazmat suits about to test the DeLorean time machine for the first time. Maybe this is part of the Back to the Future multiverse?
I recently stayed at both the Premier Inn and a DoubleTree Hilton in Woking. The Premier Inn is cheaper, and while there are fewer thrills, is a perfectly comfortable. The DoubleTree Hilton is more expensive but offers a few more interesting things. I have some thoughts on both.
Digital Keys and the Smart Hotel Room
Something I’ve wanted to try for a long time was the ability to use one’s phone or Apple Watch to unlock your room door. Effortless checkin from app to room without having to go through to front reception. Premier Inn doesn’t support this – thankfully, but there is the ability to check in at the front desk via one of the machines. Unfortunately with the Premier Inn automated check-in, it’s failed two out of four times – often with the machine failing to print the room number or the meal voucher. It’s a bit like a supermarket checkout – it’s just quicker to have somebody check you in.
With the DoubleTree, I booked online and used the Hilton Honors (sic) app to set-up the digital key that would let me check-in via the app and go straight to my room. That all worked just fine, but when I came to go to the hotel – I headed straight to the lift and it didn’t work. So I went to reception who had to issue a keycard anyway so that the lights and AC in the room would operate. Alas, this isn’t strictly necessary as you only need a credit-card size something that fits in the slot.
The digital key itself uses Blueooth. You need to hold your phone near the reader (either on the door, or by the lift buttons) and wait until the user interface changes in the app. And yes, you need the app opened at the time – simply pointing the phone at the reader doesn’t activate the app.
In all truthfulness, the digital key doesn’t save you any time at all. I found it fiddly and intrusive and there is no integration into the likes of iOS or WatchOS which would make a huge difference. And what’s worse is that you need a card to be inserted into the wall socket for the lights and AC to work – where is the Premier Inn’s The Hub-like smart room features such as being able to control lights and AC from the phone? But similarly, where is the digital lock for Premier Inn’s The Hub?
Modernising hotels with smart technology is hugely frustrating. I don’t believe any one brand has got it right yet. It’s one half of this, and another third of that. When I last stayed at a Premier Inn The Hub, even though it states it supports Apple TV, due to the technology they use, I could stream anything from my iDevices. So a complete waste of time. But at least they allow you to hook up via HDMI. DoubleTree doesn’t do that.
Premier Inn always win this, expecially with decent pillows and an ultra thick blanket. But the DoubleTree Hilton comes close – though the pillows are too soft and the blanket isn’t as thick. I did notice that DoubleTree’s beds are lower to the ground too, which I actually prefer to the Premier Inn.
Both good, though the DoubleTree’s bath is lower to the ground which makes getting in and out easier. The shower head, while adjustable in both positioning and type of shower, feels a bit cheap versus the Premier Inn’s rainforest-style head (although not adjustable).
Toilets are both okay – though if you’ve had 20 curries washed down with 500 pints, the Premier Inn isn’t going to be good enough and there are single sheets of toilet paper. DoubleTree has more household-style toilets with proper toilet rolls.
Tea and Coffee
Tea-making facilities in both hotels are reasonable. Nothing special. Neither provides enough sugar, tea or coffee sachets for the serious tea or coffee drinker. With Premier Inn, however, you can just head down to reception and grab some more tea, coffee or sugar. No idea what to do with DoubleTree.
And speaking of the DoubleTree, if I had gone straight to my room via the digital key, I’d have missed out on the Wi-Fi password (no open Wi-Fi here unlike Premier Inn). I had to get a welcome sheet from reception upon checking in with the password as well as room service details. The speed at the DoubleTree, however, is one of the best of the chain hotels I’ve seen so far. I could stream TVs and movies and do stuff. Premier Inn, even with their £5/day Virgin Media Business Premium package was absolutely dire. Premier Inn wins the award for THE worst Wi-Fi I’ve ever encountered. I had to tether my phone (which has poor reception inside Premier Inn, Woking) to get anything done.
It’s a shame that Wi-Fi in hotels overall are bad. We need to get these places up to Wi-Fi 6 standards at a minimum, with better placement of access points and better cabling within the property. I speak as somebody who has had to call a Canadian tech support line at midnight in Vancouver at his hotel, because his American lady friend wasn’t able to get a good Wi-Fi signal. We spent 30 minutes troubleshooting with the ultimate soluton being to reboot both access points on the floor we were staying on. That did the trick.
Premier Inn doesn’t operate a room service, but the DoubleTree does. The problem? Hilton are extremely bloody inconsistent with trying to balance technology with being sensible. As such, there is barely any printed material in the room. You have to scan a sodding QR code to get the menu. Or the phone directory. As a sysadmin and as somebody who works with technology for a living – it’s nice to see tech being used, but not at the expense of convenience. I found it VERY inconvenient!
Why can’t Hilton for all their development work in their Hilton Honors app put the menus in the app and allow people to order room service from within the app? Or put a laminated printed menu in the room? Let your customers pick the most convenient way of getting room service.
I don’t bother with hotel TVs. All my entertainment (audio and video and books) is on my iPad mini, iPhone or Mac. In any case, Premier Inn wins the TV fight because they allow you to connect your iPhone/iPad/Mac to the TV via HDMI and have other audio inputs too. DoubleTree does not.
With the Premier Inn in Woking, I usually get put on the third or fourth floors and found it quite quiet. There are some outside noises, especially if people are talking outside and I’ve encountered building work. Very little noise coming from the neighbours or corridors. The windows cannot be opened.
With the DoubleTree, I got to pick my room in the app and chose the 5th floor. The windows in the DoubleTree can be opened, though it took some effort to close my one – after which the noise from the main road dissipated. AC worked well, with decent controls.
The big issue I had with the DoubleTree was the lack of lighting. Just lamps beside the bed, one on the table and the entrance way. Made the whole place feel very dark with the curtains closed. The Premier Inn, on the other hand has a nice, well covered lights covering the room making it much brighter.
Lifts in both hotels do exactly what they say – nothing to write home about, though I did notice that in both cases – even with keycard protection on the DoubleTree’s lifts – for somebody from outside to come into the hotel. Had somebody waiting in the lift area when I was going back up to my room at the DoubleTree. Hadn’t unlocked the lift button and as soon as I had and got into the lift, he came up with me.
Still, could be worse – this is from the Travelodge in Woking from quite a few months back. I was amused by this and recorded a silly video (which has now had over 3,000 views!).