These days, it’s all about “plain English”. We’re all so desperate to be understood, we insist that language must be crisp and concise. It wasn’t like this in the 1980s, when things were louder, bolder and altogether more colourful. Back then, there was less plain English about, and more Pip ‘n’ Jane English. And it was altogether more fun.
Regular readers (bless you) will recall my unofficial guide to Sawardese, and are no doubt using it to spice up your everyday conversations. But let’s not stop there. Let’s take a lesson in how to speak in Pip ‘n’ Jane English. So that, no matter how antediluvian the vocabulary of the Bakers may be, there will be no times in our relationship when an interpreter wouldn’t come amiss.
- Vivid adjective, descriptive noun
In Time and the Rani, the Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) is a “meddling presence.” He’s in danger of joining an “abysmal parade.” Someone else has “puerile opinions”. So, to master Pin ‘n’ Jane English, always spice up any given noun with an extravagant adjective. This way we get monstrous experiments, obscene murders, diabolical schemes, devious traps, painful conclusions, interfering maniacs and so on.
Sometimes, they can form their own punchy sentence, like “A devastating force!” Or alternatively, combine a couple into one mega sentence, “Your past is littered with the mutilated results of your unethical experiments!” or my personal favourite “The bumbling fool’s ready made as a sacrificial lamb!”
(Or when Tetrap 2IC Urak (Richard Gauntlett) says, “The mistress has profound insight, but I think she is mistaken to rely on any of your worthless race!” P&J like chatty monsters. Remember when the Vervoids used to stand around talking about how great they were? “We are doing splendidly!” was their opening line! Surprisingly articulate for a walking aubergine.)
- Take a word from one sentence and feature it in the next sentence.
Looking to link lots of ideas in one exchange of dialogue? Try taking a word from one sentence and making a feature of it in the next! That won’t get annoying!
In Time and the Rani, there’s this memorable conversation:
DOCTOR: I can’t say I share the Rani’s taste in pets.
BEYUS: The Tetraps are nobody’s pets and you’d be wise not to forget it.
DOCTOR: This is what I’ll never forget.
MASTER: I believe your modern expression is “snuff the candle”.
DOCTOR: “Snuff the candle”? You always did lack style.
MASTER: Style is hardly the prime characteristic of your new regeneration.
The Mark of the Rani, as far as I can tell, holds the current record for this little quirk, with a mighty quadra-line exchange.
PERI: You haven’t a clue what’s going on.DOCTOR: Oh, I know what’s going on. We’re being manoeuvred off course.PERI: Manoeuvred off course? You mean it isn’t the Tardis malfunctioning again?
DOCTOR: Malfunctioning? Malfunctioning? Malfunctioning?!!!
- Forget, spare me and never mind
Want to dismiss some cockamamie idea? You’ve got a choice of “forget,” “spare me” or “never mind.”
“Spare me the lecture,” pleads Peri in The Mark of the Rani. “Spare me the dubious pragmatism,” demands Lord Ravensworth. “Forget playing the detective,” advises Doland. “Forget the questions,” suggests Mel in the same story.
Mel though tends to prefer to Never Mind things. And the list gets increasingly elaborate: “Never mind the guard!” she starts with but quickly moves on to “Never mind the Just So stories!” and “Never mind the Sydney Carton heroics!” I know, right? How often have you found yourself needing to use that zinger? There’s never a good Dickensian comeback when you need one.
- I’ve got a better word
“A little portentous, perhaps, Mel?” says the Doctor, as he briefly wonders whether to adorn his seventh persona in a cod Napoleon outfit, to which the Rani wearily replies, “pretentious is the word.”
A neat trick! Have one of your characters deliberately use the wrong word so you can have another character correct them. Like a helpful know-it-all.
DOCTOR: Beyus, why have you assisted?
BEYUS: Collaborated is the word that you are avoiding, Doctor.
After all, it gives you the chance to use multiple adjectives.
RAVENSWORTH: The violence has been horrendous.
PERI: Murderous would be more apt.
Careful not to tie yourself up in knots, though:
DOLAND: The experimental nature of our work entails some calculated risks.
DOCTOR: Calculated risks? Are you telling me that sad travesty is a statistical possibility?
MEL: The word should be “criminal”.
And if you get bored of saying “There’s a better word for it,” just hit the thesaurus.
RANI: The aggression is an unfortunate side effect.
MASTER: Unfortunate? Fortuitous would be a more apposite epithet.
(Man, that last line is classic P&J. It also works for rules 1 and 6. So versatile!)
- And that better word is “astute”
The astute among you will have noted how astute many things are in Pip ‘n’ Jane land.
The Doctor tells Peri she makes “an astute observation” and Mel that she asks “an astute question.” The Master thinks Sabalom Glitz is “very astute,” but Glitz thinks the Doctor is also “very astute”, as does the Valeyard. But murderous old Doland isn’t as impressed and says the Doctor’s not as astute as he thought.
It’s all very… astute, I suppose.
- Question? Rebuke!
Pip ‘n’ Jane ‘glish allows you to streamline your sentences into pithy little dismissals of someone else’s specious assertion. (“Specious assertion.” See how easily you too can become fluent in Pip ‘n’ Jane?).
For instance, in Time and the Rani, our crimson clad villainess (Kate O’Mara) is accused of hatred of the lizardy Lakertyans, to which she responds: “Hatred? Another fantasy!” Once you’ve clocked this one, you’ll spot it all over the fabulous Baker couple’s stories.
RANI: Cooperation? I want nothing to do with you.
DOCTOR: Destroyed? Let’s not be hasty.
RANI: Pride? I’m a scientist.
MASTER: Capricious? Turning mice into monsters.
DOCTOR: University? You remind me of someone.
DOCTOR: Triumph? There’s no cause for celebration.
Irritating? You bet.
- Smart people use big words because they’re smart.
The key to mastering Pip ‘n’ Jane? Verbosity. Essential if you want to stop people sounding like asinine cretins, appalling dunderheads or blundering imbeciles.
It’s all based on one simple idea: that if you’re a genius, and most Time Lords are, then you’d speak in a way which shows off your mighty intelligence. If the side effect is no one can understand you, that’s just the price you pay for being so galactically clever.
Time and the Rani is actually mild in this regard, but there are still plenty of examples:
RANI: Guilt by association. I warned you of the consequences of subversion!
RANI: Selective retribution will bring any dissidents to heel.
DOCTOR: Have to be a cosmic breakthrough for a neurochemist of her stature to come storming the barricades.
DOCTOR: Before I thought you were a psychopath without murderous intent. I withdraw the qualification.
It’s in the prolix sixth Doctor’s era that Pip ‘n’ Jane English finds its most elaborate expression.
DOCTOR: To be complete, the syllogism only requires its grim conclusion.
DOCTOR: Leave me to my static and solitary peregrinations.
DOCTOR: You’re letting arrogance blinker you, Professor. It may not be your intention, but you are in danger of joining an extensive roll of dishonour. Misguided scientists who claim the pursuit of truth as an excuse for immoral experiments.
His malevolent alter ego is no different:
VALEYARD: The cavalier manner in which the Doctor permitted his young companion to be destroyed militates against this charade of concern.
VALEYARD: But for the caprice of chance, the victim would have been your companion, Mel. Your culpability is beyond question.
VALEYARD: The mortality rate that attends your meddling is appalling… Can you nominate a single incident where your presence has stemmed the tide of disaster?
It reaches its inevitable apotheosis in this infamous example:
VALEYARD: You are elevating futility to a high art. There’s nothing you can do to prevent the catharsis of spurious morality!
So now you should have everything you need to write dialogue like P&J. But what about the plot, I hear you cry? Forget, spare me and never mind your concerns! Just add a lady scientist perverting the course of nature, a bevy of geniuses, plumes of deadly gases and Time Lords disguising themselves at every opportunity and you’ll be fine.
Fine? An inadequate assessment! As one Vervoid once said to another, you’ll be doing splendidly.
ADVENTURES IN SUBTITLING: The Doctor accuses Mel (who he thinks is the Rani) of being a “wretched woman.” But the subtitles say, “You washer woman!”
LINK TO Marco Polo: In the Bakers’ determination to teach the viewing children of the world a new and obscure words every episode, they hark back to the show’s original educational remit, which Marco Polo was completely into as well.
NEXT TIME: We make a pile of good things and bad things and meet Vincent and the Doctor.