Probic Vent Ood For Thought

28Sep/120

Caves and Twins: The TV Movie

For some reason I decided to watch the TV Movie - mainly as I reckon I'd not seen it this century. Like all ming-mongs do, I decided to go back and watch it, well, because it's Doctor Who.

Obviously I didn't watch it without listlessly browsing the internet at the same time, so I live tweeted it. I got a bit of feedback form Hellyer, so there's the occasional bit of interplay.

However, it's mainly what I thought of it - what occurred to me at any given time during the 90-odd minutes of running time.

How does it hold up? Well, very very badly is the answer. Praise the Lord that there wasn't a resulting series, because if you've seen the calvacade of dross produced by various writers employed by Philip Segal it will have you running into the arms of Chris Chibnall.

Incidentally, Philip Segal's role is an interesting one to ponder at this time. Even though some of instincts were correct and others woefully off-kilter thanks to years - at a guess - of working on dross like SeaQuest DSV, it's fairly clear that he was pretty much the only one looking out for Doctor Who and believing in the series in those wilderness years. I'd buy him a beer.

What works? Well, McGann has some good moments, as does Eric Roberts. Geoffrey Sax has some deft touches too and Mathew Jacobs manages to salvage a few nice lines from the group-thunk nonsense that was left after the BBC, Amblin, Fox, Universal, ABC, NBC, WWE, WCW, NASA, BNFL, ITV and Gary Frigging Russell had their way with it.

Overall, however, I think Daphne Ashbrook does best in the TVM. No doubt Big Finish will be commissioning a 400-disc box set written, produced, scored, directed and staring Barnaby Edwards and Nick Briggs soon. And I might even listen to one or two.

Caves and Twins - the TVM

I'm watching the TV Movie. What can possibly go wrong? It's a request my brother should never have granted.

THAT MUSIC'S FUCKING AWFUL #TVM

Who sniffs a Jelly Baby before eating it? And with a cup of tea?

The bit where Sylv is frantically pushing TARDIS buttons console is so good it made up most of the TV trails for the TVM. And little else

Ah, a gun fight between San Francisco triads. If that doesn't scream 'Doctor Who' I don't know what does

Why - apart form idiotic exposition and 'injured' acting would the Doctor be saying 'timing malfunction to a hoodlum he's only just met?

That's a lovely introduction for Grace, though. Wonderful cleavage too.

'I need a beryllium atomic clock!' Uh-huh. I know this is inviting scoff, but Sylv is absolutely terrible in this. Is he even acting?

That scream is pretty amusing though. All Docs should do that just before they regenerate. #tvm

Surely Bruce the ambulance driver should have been called Seth Terma or something? #tvm

Will Sasso being a comedy fattie. Actually bits of this are OK. Oh, Frankenstein - is there a really subtle metaphor I've missed here? #tvm

Walking down the corridor humming Puccini is nice - and the mirrors in the old wing of the hospital. But Who Am Argh! is crap #tvm

Lee going through the Doc's belongings is nice. And someone is going to a fancy dress party as Tom Baker? #tvm

Great murder by The Master. They should have played is Dudley Simpson leitmotif though #tvm

Ah, the American health system. Evil through and through. This would never happen under Obamacare #tvm

@james_hellyer [Eric Roberts] gets it in the same way that Graham Crowden and Paul Darrow did

I really hate the thing about the Doctor knowing everyone's future and/or their deepest desires. He just comes across as a sex pest #tvm

And now it looks like he's trying to take his trousers off in the back of Grace's car #tvm

Grace Holloway drives a Range Rover. And Bruce owns a pair of aviators and a massive leather trench coat #tvm

The nurse doesn't see anything odd about Bruce peeling off his finger nail and flicking it onto her work? Ridiculous #tvm

I also hate it that the Doctor goes around moodying famous figures from history, like some desperate time-travelling starfucker #tvm

Murray Gold must have been taking notes when watching this. Bad 'magical' Hollywood-lite music #tvm

McGann's really short. #tvm

I really dislike that 'these shoes fit perfectly' stuff. It just comes across as try-hard kookiness. #tvm

Why would Lee be bothered about who Genghis Khan was? Or this weird backstory The Master concocts? Didn't he just threaten to kill him? #tvm

Well, at least the cloister room doesn't have a fucking pterodactyl or vortisaur in it #tvm

Oh dear, the plot's kicking in. Things are about to take a turn for the worst. #tvm

So, TARDISes are designed to open their power source when a human eye looks into a blinding beam of light hidden beneath a staff? #tvm

How long was the Doc kissing Grace for? Why did he remember who he was or know the Master's plans? ACK! The crippling exposition! #tvm

The Doctor drinks tea. BECAUSE HE"S BRITISH. #tvm

Midnight huh? Neat dramatic coincidence. 'By 4.37pm next Friday this planet will be pulled inside out' #tvm

'...always seeing patterns in things that aren't there'. The Eighth Doctor is obviously a climate-change denier with that comment #tvm

Eric Roberts is great in that bit I'll give him that. The transference line and 'I don't like it!' - Ainley would've done it better tho #tvm

All of the bike cop bit is quite well done by all concerned too. "He's British" explains everything. #tvm

I prefer the ambulance chase in Spearhead From Space. And the bit where the Doc is strapped to a table in Mark of the Rani #tvm

I finally meet the right guy and he's from another planet? Where on Earth did that come from? Apart from a different draft. #tvm

The constant supply of coincidences is surely a record - the clock; the guest list, the ambulance - even in Doctor Who #tvm

They tell cock jokes on Gallifrey? Quite a good line though. That professor dude looks like a paedophile #tvm

The Master has jizzed on those security guards? 'Liven things up' is another Doctorish thing though. #tvm

Phew. It's one of those 'slow release' fire hoses. Thanks God for that. #tvm

The universe hangs by such a delicate thread of coincidences. That's a stroke of fucking luck, eh Doc? #tvm

That's a really crapulous Scooby Doo bit of throwaway, desperate attempted humour. The pseudoscience bit quite good tho #thebikebit #tvm

'are you any good at setting alarm clocks?' Eh? Scary black-eyed Grace is good though. #tvm

Yes, I can't see anything wrong with buddying up with this green-eyed, possessing, sadomasochistic pervert #tvm

Bit of a design flaw, that. #onlyhumanscanopengallifreyantimecapsules #tvm

There's some nice directorial touches here by Geoffrey 'Tenor' Sax in the back-and-forth between the Master and Doctor #tvm

Lucky Grace know how's to rewire a time machine #tvm

McGann sounds a bit like Colin Baker there. Wouldn't it have been fun if he'd been recast? #tvm

It would've been great if Pertwee / Delgado or Davison / Ainley had had a punch-up #tvm

[replying to Hellyer's observation that the Doctor doesn't try too hard to rescue the Master form the Eye of Harmony] Yeah, his hearts aren't in that. At least he doesn't cry like Captain Emo #tvm

Be great if the TARDIS brought back the Master as well. Big fat reset switch. Better get used to it. #tvm

That punch of the TARDIS console is McGann's best moment #tvm

The music swell, the fireworks, the kiss. I expect it rankles because I'm a sad fanboy who's never had sex, rather than it being shit. #tvm

Oh no, not again. Well, quite. Chances are I'll never watch that again. #tvm

11Apr/121

The Geek Clique on Doctor Who – Season 3

Hmm, season 3. Weird one. I think some of these episodes are as good as the new Doctor Who ever got. It's got Moffatt's perfectly-formed masterpiece in Blink (arguably, controversially, the last great thing he's written for the series); it has the balls to go outside the box with Human Nature, which has lovely moments; it has New Blake's 7 with a masterful (I genuinely didn't intend that pun) reveal in Utopia; and it has something that's just mental in the form of Gridlock.

But it also has two two-parters that are just bloody awful. First we have Helen Raynor's risible Daleks In Manhattan (and can't you just imagine how RTD came up with that one - its title is a mission statement and brief rolled into one, clearly on the basis that it's funny or wacky) with a squawking showgirl, 'pig-slaves' (whatever you do never type that into an image search engine) and oh for God's sake I can't go on.

Then the Simm Master finale. This actually has some wonderful moments in it. Simm's thumbs-up to a dying cabinet minister's "You're insane!" is brilliant and he has other good moments but - whether its acting, scripting or direction - he's simply stupid in much of it. Eat your heart out Anthony Ainley, who at least was acting in a pantomime most of the time back in the 80s. And then the hideous shrivelled Doctor thing, which then turns into The Doctor as Jesus. The deification of the Doctor had been there for some time in RTD's scripts, but really.

The rest are - for me - utterly forgettable. I've never again watched 42, the Shakespeare one, Smith and Jones again - and I've only seen several others cos they happened to be on television at the time.

The Geek Clique - mostly new-series fans - largely gave this season the thumbs-down; not least because this season ends, as the previous two did, with the show-runner writing himself into a corner and then doing the only thing he could do - turn off the plot.

Poor Freema Agyeman also gets her fair share of criticism here. I don't think Freema was helped by the part of Martha and I think she has her fair share of very strong moments in the series. Still, Martha could hardly be thought of as a success - one wonders just how quickly RTD sketched out that character, one he never really seemed sure of - even if Freema is the most beautiful companion ever (and I include Anneke Wills and Mary Tamm in that, though I fancied most of the companions truth be told).

The Geek Clique (see season one and season two for an explanation of this weird gestalt entity) was not generally impressed. Was Who fatigue setting in? Tennant fatigue? Davies fatigue? This series scores an average of 4.2, which places it above series two but well below series one.

For me it's one of wild fluctuations in quality - we know that RTD found the pace of production very difficult and, frankly, this shows in a number of weaker episodes, which have to be carried by Tennant.

So, where does this leave my 33-33-33 split for season three? Pretty much intact actually:

Good - Gridlock, Blink, Human Nature/The Family of Blood, Utopia
Meh - Smith and Jones, The Shakespeare Code, 42, The Lazarus Experiment
Shit - Daleks in Manhattan / Evolution of the Daleks, The Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords

But will the Geek Clique agree? Did season three make us want to not blink. Or did we, er, want to teat out our brains and put them in Zeriods?

Simm! Jacobi! Toclthingies! Marf! Helen's Rayn'or Terror! New Adventures! The Angels! Cats! A run of four straight stories that were utter shit! It can only be season three of NuDoctor Who!

Season 3

This one is the most Meh season for me. It's not as offensively bad as season 4, true, but there's really nothing I felt any urge to watch again with the possible exception of Blink. Even more damningly, it's the first season of new Who for which I didn't buy the DVD Box Set: for completist nerds like us, that's surely a fairly big warning sign.

The season was a catalogue of missed opporunities and errors caused by RTD starting to believe his own hype and the hype surrounding Tennant.

On a recent cheap DVD-fuelled rewatch I skipped the Dalek one, Lazarus and fell a bit asleep during 42. Which is surprising given that it's based around a pub quiz.

There were some real standout stories - Human Nature, Blink, and apart from the finale and the dalek second episode there were none that were really poor. But it showed me that RTD's alternative to avoiding getting too dark (which he said was the failing of every long-running show) was to get too big. Far, Far too big.

I don't see any of the scripts for this year as being outstanding... I actually can't remember the vast majority of the stories in this season.

In terms of the stories I think the run from Human Nature to Utopia is very strong. Unfortunately there's also the run from the Daleks one to 42, which is utterly forgettable (see also: Shakespeare Code and Smith and Jones). And the final two-parter an absolute disaster; the second part perhaps the nadir of the whole series. Another series of radically fluctuating quality for me.

The first one was fun but inconsequential, the Shakespeare one was smug twaddle (and the scene in Bedlam in which the Doctor screams at the gaoler about his treatment of the inmates and then leaves without having even tried to change things sums up the problem with the tenth Doctor very nicely: he's all mouth and no trousers), I'd probably like "Gridlock" far less if I watched it again, the Dalek two parter was I thought rather nice in a slightly clumsy way until Jesus showed up at the end, and "The Lazarus Experiment" was a nice little filler episode let down by a stupid CGI monster (and, like most of the overtly Christian Series 3, is proof positive that RTD is the least atheistic atheist who ever lived).

Smith and Jones

Smith and Jones, while I enjoyed it at the time, is a first draft of the much-superior Partners in Crime.

The Shakespeare Code

[...of] the celebrity historicals, The Unquiet Dead wasn't bettered until Vincent & the Doctor. Shakespeare Code is perfectly servicable though, Harry Potter jokes and all.

Gridlock

Have come round to the position that Gridlock is conflicted in all the right places. A lovely little filmlet, that one.

42

How can a thing featuring both Doctor Who and a pub quiz make me fall asleep? I don't know. If anything you'd think it might even make me angry, given that Martha cheats.

Blink

Blink has a good concept but an appalling script. Like all Moffat scripts, the only voice the characters have is his.

Blink was one of the best episodes of the new era.

Human Nature / Family of Blood

Human Nature was anti-Doctor Who for me. The Doctor was cowardly and cruel. I hated it.

I didn't find Human Nature as good as other people obviously did.

I really don't get the love for Human Nature: the script is baggy, and some nice concepts are lost in yet another tiresome adventure for Captain Emo. Those scarecrows looked brilliant, and moved fantastically; they could have been the defining Who beastie for a generation, but who remembers them now? Frittered away, just like the concept of the Master would be later in the season.

Human Nature is bloody good.

Utopia

The last ten minutes of Utopia was stunning (apart from that line reading) and really had me on the edge of my seat.

Utopia was actually amazing. Brilliant set up and an absolutely dreadful John Simm finale, with all the good undone by the two episodes that followed. Unfortunately it doesn't exist as a story in it's own right.

Utopia was like 70s Doctor Who. The guest star over-acting, an alien planet I don't care about, unthinking racism and dreadful direction. Bizarrely, I loved it, though. And was there ever a better break of the fourth wall in Doctor Who than when Jacobi said, "I ham the Master"?

I don't really get the mass love for Utopia and can only conclude it is because it is mostly set at night and has got a official "real famous Shakesperian Act-Or" (albeit not a very good one) in it. It felt very long, the Mad Max baddies were dull and Chan fucking Tho has to be the most awful Nu-Who character ever.

The Utopia love, for me, is based upon its precision-tooled raising of the dramatic tension from minute 1 to minute 45.

Sound of Drums / Last of the Timelords

The First part of the Simm two parter was fantastic, Simm clearly having a whale of a time and the Tocclafaines being fun new baddies. Then it all went to complete shit in the second part with magic jesus Doctor and all the rest.

I was definitely looking forward to the second part.

If I could vote for "The Sound of Drums" but not vote for "Last of the Time Lords" I would.

Both episodes deserve damnation for introducing the fucking Valiant. I have an issue with the modern day setting for stories. The global awareness of aliens and advanced technology like the Valiant make the world quite definitely not our own, despite the soap opera attempts to keep the characters grounded in our world. It's counter-productive. It undermines what should be the strength of present day set stories - the proverbial Yeti in a loo in Tooting Bec.

The point of the modern stories has to be the whole 'fuck, there could actually be a monster in the garden and I wouldn't know' thing. Otherwise what's it for?

Again, brilliant ideas (the Toclafane, the Paradox machine) chewed up and shat out to give Tennant the opportunity to look sad and do his thin-lipped, glistening-eyed biting back back emotion schtick. I honestly can't bring myself to think about Dobby the Messiah, let alone say anything.

Simm was fantastic. Her who played Mrs Master wasn't too shabby either. The regulars kept things together. And the Toclafane were one of the creepiest villains Doctor Who has ever faced.

But the story was somewhat less than the sum of its parts. A series of barely-related set-pieces, a huge FX budget, a sadistic way with the show's eponymous hero and a subplot involving domestic violence do not make for the best Doctor Who ever. It's been pointed out that, had the story been part of the original series, the Master would've ended up being betrayed by the Toclafane, joining forces with the Doctor and escaping whilst everybody's back is turned. But no, RTD had to wring more and more emotion out of his audience, had to make it all about life & death, had to up the ante one last time. And it didn't work. Arguably, it's never worked again .

...restraint might have spared us the Jones family's nigh totally vacuous onscreen humiliation, Freema lugging narrative weights that might've crushed lesser talents and obviously everybody's favourite detestable sight - floaty Doctor Jesus. But you can prise my Jacobi-Simm Master trilogy out of my cold dead etc.

The Tenth Doctor / David Tennant

Tennant really upped his game to compensate for the lack of charisma or chemistry in this series, and he is superb during a great deal of this, but even so, the Doctor needs a companion to keep things bubbling during the dull bits, and we just didn't have it.

I think the real mistake RTD made was that he cast an actor he knew could act anything - so RTD made him.

The Master / John Simm

The crowning nail up the urethra was Simms portrayl of the Master: given that this one was sold to us as very definitvely a reflection of the Doctor, it gives us a chilling glimpse into what RTD thinks the Doctor's USP is - but worse than that, of course, is the debasement of the character into a sociopathic Chuckle Brother with all the menace of the Grumbleweeds blasting out disco tunes.

I love the Simm Master - he even made Tennant's swansong watchable.

Martha Jones / Freema Agyeman

The biggest problem for me was Freema, gawd bless 'er. Easy on the eyes but, Christ, I trained with nomarks who had more acting talent than that.

Freema's acting by numbers sort of spoils most of the series for me - certainly Shakespeare and the finale. The others sort of spoil themselves. I'd probably watch all of them again without grimacing, apart from the Dalek one which was a good story, with just a really really bad idea.

Martha was a nice idea: as a professional, she could have been new Who's Liz Shaw. But instead she's wasted by being lumbered with yet another love story. And - let's be honest here - Freema, whilst easy on the eyes, could not act her way out of a Terry Nation plot.

Freema is no worse than Aldred or Tamm or Lane, and Martha is a breath of fresh air after the unbearable Rose, but the problem is partly that she is set up to fail and partly that Davies can't write women. Oh, he can do chavs (Rose), and chav harpies (Jackie), and comedy chav harpies (Donna), but if he can't copy a female character archetype off Paul Abbott then he hasn't a clue. Look at the preponderance of ludicrous ice maidens in his stories; look at the way in which middle and upper class women and black and ethnic minority women are given really, really awful dialogue, and then look at the RTD women who actually work. Neither Martha nor Freema ever stood a chance.

Freema's been bloody awful if in everything she's been in. At least Tamm could deliver lines without putting the wrong emphasis on the wrong words.

She's set up to fail from the very beginning: she's compared every five minutes to bloody Rose and found wanting. It's like the Fifth Doctor despising Turlough because he's not as special as Adric instead of despising him because he's a shifty ginger.

Freema can't act. It was like having a sexy Adric on screen. That took me a hell of a while to come to terms with.

I think she got a terrible rap with the part she had to play. I think she's OK during comic moments and seem to remember her being good in Utopia. Sarah Sutton can't act; Mathew Waterhouse can't act. Freema can act, she's just not especially good at it. But I'd say she's ahead, on average, against most old Who companions.

I just think that they made a mistake in the character of Martha and in the casting. They tried to paint her as a strong independent woman, whereas they more or less wrote her how Rose would have been in the Doctor hadn't fancied her.

Russell T Davies

There's just something about the Sound of Drums and Last of the Time Lords that strikes me as being the point at which Davies's confidence tipped over into being arrogance. After Doomsday, he shouldn't have tried to do a big series finale again for a while. Unfortunately he did, and his writing started to creak under the strain. Upping the ante continually made me lose a little interest - it's like the boy who cried wolf. This culminated in Moffat's bizarre "the Doctor really has died" obviously lying bollocks in 2011, but 2007 was when it started giving diminishing returns.

RTD has no idea how the world works or how people - except for very camp men and very brassy women, for whom he writes in exactly the same way in any case - talk. Never has done. I mean that.

I rather liked Season 3, the horrible '42' and 'The Shakespeare Code' excepted, and was pretty pleased with things until Episode 13 came along and more or less permanently fucked the RTD era up. But then, I maintain that Nu Who seasons are the antithesis of 'Trek' films in that the odd numbered ones are rather better. The bulk of seasons 2, 4 and 6 have been pretty well unwatchable (and, in the case of Season 6, I mostly didn't even try), whereas 1, 3 and 5 were mostly worth watching, if not necessarily worth watching twice.

RTD's strength lies in the fact that his stories make emotional sense. Unfortunately they make bugger all of any other kind of sense, and there aren't many actors who can carry off his brand of high octane emotion without looking like a tit. Eccleston could do it. Capaldi could do it. So could Tate (a bit) and Cribbens. Piper can't, Barrowman can't, and although Tennant pulled if off to start with having to watch him do the same wobbly lip followed by gritted teeth followed by shouting followed by sobbing schtick every week was unbearable. That's the trouble with soaps, though: if you keep upping the ante on suffering as an easy alternative to drama then sooner or later you have to bury somebody alive or steal their baby or have them come back from the dead for no good reason and it's always, always shit.

It reminds me a bit of the 'Xmas in Albert Square' thing - something that's become a joke because each Christmas needs to beat the previous one in terms of how ludicrously miserable it is (the funfair explosion one being my personal favourite). It's a matter of some astonishment that every Doctor Who series has essentially ended in this way - only much more so. To the point where 'how on Earth are they going to get out of this one?' is answered with a big fat reset - or the original narrative is demonstrated to be a lie.

And finally... (and possibly not seriously)

It is 2007, Iggy Pop is in the charts and Skegness declares itself a free democratic republic for three glorious weeks before the tanks roll in on the orders of one Margaret Thatcher. And on Television a strange little show called Doctor Who is preparing to broadcast one of the strangest and most cryptic shows of it's long run.

The episode shows three interracial romances ranging from the wholesome flirtation between Martha and Some Guy, the consensual sexual relationship between the mixed race human/pig man "Lazlo" and the chorus girl and the physical violation of the bloke in the two tone shoes by the "black" dalek Sec.

The first of these is presented as being utterly chaste and has no negative consequences for either character.
The second of these although wrapped up in a superficially sappy "love conquers all sentiment" is clearly tormented, secret and will require both parties abandoning their careers and giving up on any semblance of a normal life.
The third of these is presented utterly negatively; by consorting with the "black" dalek as a partner the bloke in the two tone shoes (and if that isn't straightforwardly obvious symbolism we might as well give up on the last 200 years of Western Critical tradition) ultimately surrenders his individual identity and is viciously absorbed into a miscegenated, vile inhuman creature.

So far so a straightforward story of middle class western fear of interacial relationships and black sexual potency.

But think about this; the Dalek Sec creature is ultimately potrayed positively. He is the only one who can lead the daleks "out of the darkness" and "into the light". His original scheme to "infect" the human subject (and it is surely no coincidence that these are mostly played by white actors) with Dalek DNA is replaced after his transmogmification with a subtler scheme to fuse the Dalek and the Human into one being, similiar to what he has become but at once greater; entierely Dalek and entierely human and greater than the sum of either parts. Just as Christ in Christian mysticism was entierely mortal and entierly god... or more appropriately given what we know of Doctor Who's alchemical nature entierley male and entierely female; a key symbol of alchemy and western msysticism. Further in this blurrirng of gender roles (in the first episode of Doctor Who written by a woman since it came back no less!) there is accomplished a key goal of third wave feminism that given Raynor's background we can only expect her to be steeped in.

Sacred Feminism and the Sacred Feminine in one easily digested bit of pop-culture. The promise of Buffy the Vampire Slayer realised in a superficially simple story of a Man in a Blue Box.

But it would be a mistake to see this as soft and cosily presented chocolate box mysticism. Sec's goals may be laudable but how does he accomplish them? By a vicious attack and violation of the man who thought he was his equal partner. Alesteir Crowley (one of the key figures in Doctor Who so far, cropping up in veiled forms in every season of the show's original run) held that the way to obtain mystic power and wisdom was through a ritual of violation. A symbolic act of rape that would free the seeker from the bounds of social convention.

Here the "black" dalek Sec violates a white partner and achieves mystic enlightenment freeing himself from his Dalek programming.

But there is something else going on here as well. In his exploitation of the native workers the bloke in the two tone shoes echoes the exploitation of the workers by the British Empire, the Daleks are explicitily colonialists, the story takes places in "New" York; one of the most famous and most ancient colonies of the British Empire.

...and also one of the first to throw off the Colonial yoke and establish it's own brash and distinct identity independent of it's colonial past. The famous melting pot where new cultures rub up against each other metaphorically and literally and strange synergies are created. As the British colonised New York and something strange and new was created so by colonising the bloke in the two tone shoes was Sec changed and something new created.

It is literally impossible at this point to argue that the show is not saying that the way for the metaphorical rape of colonialism to be overcome is through a mystic synthesis of the new and old into something else entierely. In a word; alchemy.

So there we have it. Post-Colonial Reaffirmation of an Alchemical Mystic Ideal and renunciation of conventional narratives of rape, interacial relationships and feminism all in a superficially simple story of Daleks in Manhattan.

Hush child stop addlepating me!

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