Theatre It's lunchtime on the 29th September and I'm sitting in a meeting room at the Hilton Hotel in Liverpool listening to Wizzard. One row back from the front of a phalanx of seats, in an isle chair, in front of me is a temporary stage and I'm waiting for a short introduction to the cast of Jack and the Beanstalk, this year's pantomime at St Helens Theatre Royal. Even though this isn't the kind of press event I usually agree to visit, it's a chance to finally have a reason to walk through the giant glass doors at the front of this complex and also we have the enticement of enjoying one of their cream teas afterwards. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more likely to get me to attend a press launch of anything than the promise of a meal afterwards
As what feels like the third key change in the Mull of Kintyre winds onwards, a compilation of Christmas music is being played to get us in the mood, I try to remember the last time I attended a full panto. My guess is that it's not since school and the Blue Coat's production of Jack and the Beanstalk. There's no particular reason for this, other than that I don't have family and reputationally it's generally something which families do. Growing up, my Auntie would take her cub pack to see the rocking pantos at the Everyman and I sometimes went along and very much enjoyed those, part fairy tale, part musical education. That may be the first place I heard The Twist. Luckily Disney films exist to fill in the gap, though they've never done a feature length Jack which is an oversight.
Before long, John and Yoko fade out and we're greeted to some jingling bell sounds as the presentation's compare, Radio City 96.7's Claire Simmo bursts onto the stage from a side door. She's playing The Fairy in the production and dressed fluffy pink costume and all in sparkles, even her skin which twinkles under the stage lights. The energy level in the room increases exponentially. After talking up the theatre and having us applaud someone I think is the producer, anticipation builds. Simmo's actually very good, slipping seamlessly in and out of character. Finding the right tone with these presentations must be a difficult business. It's not the whole panto and it's not really the kind of audience they can expect on a usual work night. There's only one child. Apart from me, but maturity age doesn't count.
In turn The Fairy introduces us to the cast. Here's the theatre's resident Dame, Simon Foster as Dame Dotty, to provide a musical and dance number. Here's panto and Shakespeare veteran (Black Box Theatre Company) Liam Mellor as Simple Simon accompanied by the all important cow. Here's Kurtis Stacey from Emmerdale as Jack. Coronation Street's Nick Cochrane as King Charles. Abby Mavers from Waterloo Road as Princess Jill and finally Linda Nolan as the show's antagonist Mrs Fleshcreep, who heralds in the Giant through a backdoor, a fifteen foot tall cartoonish costume. Each in turn introduces themselves and their fate in the story. We clap, we boo, we jeer, we laugh and participate as much as a room full of nervous people whose inhibitions have been firmly inhibited after years of experience will allow.
Before long it's over and we retire to the round tables at the back of the room for the cream teas. The Hilton's cream teas are shelved affairs. At the bottom assorted sandwiches. Next up, carrot cake, chocolate, cheese cake, victoria sponge and lemon sponge. Top shelf a couple of scones, clotted cream and a raspberry meringue, augmented by a cup of earl grey. Three of these were brought to the table and reader, I devour one of them all to myself, apart from some of the sandwiches (don't get along with egg mayonnaise, not a fan of prawns), one of the scones (not enough clotted cream) and the bottom half of the meringue (too sweet, too crunchy). I shall not be eating dinner tonight. Or the rest of the week, I suspect. Apart from some possible soup.
Meanwhile, the real press are interviewing cast members who in between their refreshments have their picture taken with each other and with guests. One of the attendees I speak to says she takes a group of children every year and had booked tickets for the Christmas Eve performance as soon as they became available even before she knew what the content would be, because it's such excellent value every year. The relevant information is here. Some shows start at 10am which must be when schools attend and there are three shows a day at the weekend which must require a fair amount of endurance from the cast and crew. Not sure I could do it, especially if it requires the amount of emotional energy we saw in just this brief presentation.
The weird afterlife of the world's subterranean 'ghost stations':
"In 1920, construction began on what was to become an important new transportation system for Cincinnati, Ohio. Local voters had given near-unanimous support to a $6m (£3.7m) municipal bond, and despite wartime restrictions and shortages, the project began. Little did the city’s officials know that the system they were building would never carry a single passenger. [...] Five years later, the money had run out, the federal government refused to help and construction was halted. Today, there is an entire six-mile subway system abandoned underneath the Cincinnati streets."
Benedict Cumberbatch doesn’t know how to say “penguins”
"Why has the BBC hired an actor who can’t pronounce the word penguins to voice a documentary about penguins?"
Rogue Is Restored In A New Cut Of X-Men: Days Of Future Past:
“It’s a big chunk, a substantial part of the movie,” writer/producer Simon Kinberg said about Paquin’s storyline in an announcement on Thursday. “We want to give fans the fullest picture of the film – behind the camera, and in front of it. Every movie has scenes that are cut out, but not every movie has scenes cut out with such a beloved character.”
Waters Close Over Kashmir:
"On the evening of September 7th, I was trying to reach my family in Srinagar, the largest city in India-controlled Kashmir. Automated messages thwarted me: “This number is out of coverage area”; “The number you have called is not available.” At a certain point in the night, my father willed a call across the Himalayas. “We are home,” he said. “It is all right here.” His voice belied his words. I wanted to check if he had the medicine he needed for his heart condition, but the call dropped. [...] It had rained nonstop for the past week, and the Jhelum river, which spools like a paisley through the valley of Kashmir before crossing over to Pakistan, in the north, had been swelling. For stretches, on its way to Srinagar, the Jhelum runs parallel to the lone highway from the Indian plains to the valley. By September 5th, the river and its tributaries had inundated hundreds of villages—modest homes destroyed, apple orchards sundered, and fields of saffron and rice wasted."
Top 10 films of our lifetime #5: Scott Pilgrim Vs The World:
"There's something irresistible about the structure of Scott Pilgrim Vs The World. Learn the life lesson. Beat the boss. Level up. Repeat until you win the girl or you take a pounding. There's no greater purpose at play here other than to pick up speed, make some noise and have some fun. Saying it's the perfect movie for the ADHD generation is perhaps selling it short, but the fact is Scott Pilgrim doesn't give you a chance to be bored – it's a film that dishes out rewards small and often, like a videogame that's desperate to keep you playing. It might be a line, a gag, a musical cue, a transition, a graphic – Wright fills his films fuller than is strictly sensible, cramming his cinematic suitcase with treat after treat. When unsuspecting audiences open up his boxes of delights, they burst open violently as if spring-loaded with entertainment. It can be overwhelming. It is never not interesting."
Posted on Sunday, September 28, 2014
TV What kind of unholy hour is this to be writing about Doctor Who? Actually this is just the time I am usually writing about Doctor Who on a Saturday night but I’ve tended to have about an hour’s head start (two hours a year ago) and would be about four or five paragraphs in if I actually have an opinion. Yet thanks to the vagaries of scheduling and the BBC not wanting to receive nasty press from its rivals about god forbid scheduling a talented show opposite another talent show, here we all are having seen the first fifteen minutes of post-watershed Doctor Who since the broadcast of the TV Movie back in 1996 (barring Torchwood) (Updated: and well yes ok John McKerrell, Deep Breath). All of which should be seen as an apology for the upcoming ramble. I’m drinking coffee. This may have ill-advised side effects later.
Is there anything about The Caretaker that fitted the time slot? The first killing is pretty grim though the frazzled limb which drops into shot isn’t any less horrible that the charred remains of Luke Skywalker’s Aunt and Uncle in the U-rated Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope, which as the BBFC case study notes, was for it’s “universal appeal and adventurous tone” and in the good old days when Han shot first in cold blood. Other than that the general action tone is akin to The Sarah Jane Adventures (cf, 50% of its writer) and for all the shouting no swearing. Like Our Zoo (so far) this is television out of time which will probably been seen by the majority of its audience on catch-up (not least because for its entire duration it was being broadcast opposite the aforementioned talent show).
Now hold on a minute while I think about how I’m going to structure the following. I think I have about four things to say but I’m not sure which order to put them in. No, wait, I know what I’m going to put out fourth, it’s the other three I’m not sure about. It’s that sort of episode, the kind which is itself doing about three or four different things and somewhat compartmentalises them until they end up smacking into each other like Raston Robots on a stag night. As with all of these previous episodes, they’re character studies masquerading as epic sci-fi action adventure which are supposed to tell us something about the life of a Time Lord or the life of the companion or the life of someone on the outside viewing all of that, in which the alien threat is nothing more than a mcguffin to give the Doctor a reason for being there.
The life of a Time Lord, then, or rather this Time Lord. Having had a couple of successes with the Doctor does domestic format, here’s Gareth Roberts in the familiar ground of The Lodger and Closing Time is how many of the reviews will have it as they entirely forget School Reunion and Human Nature existed. As with his earlier episodes, it’s about dropping this alien presence into the mass of humanity and making fun of his inability to really understand them, his innate alieness. As expected the best parts of the episode are this Doctor’s eyebrow raising misunderstandings of just who these people are that he’s supposed to be protecting and quite why they don’t seem to think on his wavelength. But in relation to this Doctor the results are far starker.
Future fan theorists may consider how previously when the Doctor infiltrated the school it was as a teacher but here he’s a caretaker reversing the power dynamic of those previous stories where Rose and Martha found themselves in the utilitarian roles. Which should put him in the same realm as the Eleventh Doctor in Roberts’s previous two stories ingratiating himself with humanity except he doesn’t. He’s not interested. The Caretaker is about telling us the person who was interested in the details of people's lives (“Street corner, two in the morning, getting a taxi home.” “Chops and gravy.”) utilising them as symbols of hope is gone. This new model still cares deeply enough about humanity that he wants to risk his life to save them but doesn’t seem to care about their feelings.
On the one hand this does indeed lead to some very funny scenes, but on the other it makes him an unpleasant shit to spend time with, the asshole who everyone in the office really hates but you tolerate anyway because you have to. This is were I reveal the rather interesting revelation I had this morning after finally getting around to watching the Extradental about Time Heist (an inertia which speak volumes). I like Peter Capaldi. I bloody hate his Doctor. There, I’ve said it. Phew. Which means that I can really enjoy his performance and I do, a lot, but he just doesn’t feel like he’s playing my Doctor. It’s difficult to describe but it’s almost like the Doctor is absent. The closest he’s come, for obvious reasons, is in Listen and possibly Robots of Sherwood, but apart from that, sheesh.
The Caretaker is the epitome of this absence of the Doctor syndrome. When he mentions River, I don’t believe for a second that he’s the man who met her which I know is in stark contrast to Graham’s Russian doll metaphor in his review of Deep Breath in DWM. When he’s in the TARDIS tinkering it doesn’t feel like his space. Clearly you’ll dismiss this as the usual problem of holding onto the past, of missing Smith, but honestly it’s not that and like I said it’s not necessarily about Capaldi whose working really much better with his line readings. But it’s definitely something. Perhaps it’s just a matter of taste. I have Pertwee and C. Baker issues too and the Doctor’s very specifically being steered in that direction away from the benevolent alien figure. It could just be that.
But it goes much deeper than that. It’s the feeling that I’m watching a series called Doctor Who, which is doing all the things that Doctor Who does and is, but there’s an emptiness that wasn’t there before. Compare The Caretaker to any of those previous storyalikes and it feels superficial, lacking in scale. Arguably, deliberately so in this case, but in making the new Doctor a grumpy reclusive personality utilising extrovertedness as a prop, the show has done the same. This could just be me reacting to the tonal change Mark Gatiss notes, of the shift from City of Death to the Horror of Fang Rock, but the sheer preponderance of corridors over exteriors is really, really obvious, especially when you consider the detrimental running order changes caused by the fear of such in season six.
Plus the threats are less impressive. In the drive to create new monsters, we’re in the realm of the early production teams chasing the new Daleks but not really since these one episode wonders deliberately don’t have the legs, literally in this case. There’s a thread right through Who of the incidental monster or alien in operation to remind us that we’re watching Doctor Who, but The Caretaker’s offering is an especially weak example especially in comparison to something like the Krafayis from Vincent and the Doctor or the ingenious creations that appeared in The Sarah Jane Adventures when Gareth Roberts was the writer. Unless I missed something due to being half asleep, the Skovox Blitzer is simply a thing to be destroyed. His thematic resonance is zero.
Perhaps I’m like Clara, holding on to what we have because of what used to be there. The teaser to The Caretaker is the final five Amy & Rory episodes in microcosm, the Doctor dropping in on a seemingly daily basis to take Clara on an adventure before dropping her off in time for a date. If only the TARDIS could have travelled with this accuracy when Rose was on board, her Mum wouldn’t have worried as much because she’d always be home for tea. That also grounds the show somewhat. One of the glories of the 60s series was that it was as much about being lost in time not knowing if you’ll see your own planet again whereas Clara is shown these wonders then seems perfectly able to continue to conduct her life back on Earth. It’s as though the life of the kids in the attic has be absorbed by the main series.
Jenna Coleman remains superb incidentally. In this three-hander, she’s the one who holds the episode together and is the audience’s point of view character. Despite everything I said, her and Capaldi sparring is purely pleasurable especially when she’s essentially acting now as his ambassador to humanity, caring so that he doesn’t have to, as he says. You see how conflicted I am on this? Making her a teacher at Coal Hill School suggest perhaps that Moffat et al are in fact trying to suggest what might have happened if the First Doctor had been in full control of TARDIS, allowing Susan to attend school and travel the universe, saving the planet now and then with the aid of a couple of her human teachers (assuming he hasn’t dropped them off on Vortis or wherever in order to preserve the secrets of his magic box).
What to make of Danny Pink’s reaction to all this, and please believe me when I say the caffeine’s just kicked in, I really don’t care because the gender politics of the episode are horrendous. Before I really go for this, here are some of the necessary qualifications. There’s a genuine attempt at interestingness in the approach to the companion/boyfriend dynamic which as is always the case stems from an attempt to contrast what’s gone before. Whereas both Mickey and Rory were dropped right in it from the off, Clara’s been keeping Danny in the dark, perhaps in an attempt to compartmentalise or shield him from it all, in a way which isn’t entirely unlike the approach taken by Martha and indeed Donna with their loved ones in previous series all of whom also reacted in a negative way after the revelatory moment.
The dynamic we’re being presented with of Clara seeking the Doctor’s approval of her boyfriend and seeking her boyfriend’s approval of the Doctor is a potentially psychologically richer concoction than what we’ve seen previously, perhaps trying to indicate the difficult choices some young women sadly do find themselves enduring even in this decade and the mention of Jane Austen earlier in the episode is perhaps supposed to suggest of how centuries old literature can still be utilised as a touchstone in these situations. In having Clara say she loves Danny so specifically, so romantically and contrasting this with her complicated feelings for the Doctor, it uncouples her totally from the ambiguity that dogged Amy time in the TARDIS and Rory’s esteem issues. As Dan says at The Guardian, "It’s a brave version of Doctor Who, where everybody is written so honestly and as brutally flawed..."
With all of that said, for goodness sake Doctor Who, are you fucking kidding me? It’s fair to say I have a deficit myself when it comes to relationships and an understanding thereof, but how is it we now have a companion, again in this decade who not only feels like she has to seek the Doctor’s approval of her boyfriend and seek her boyfriend’s approval of the Doctor? Why isn’t she asking what business it is of her friend who she goes out with and on the other hand what business it is of her boyfriend who she’s friends with? A companion (and yes I appreciate the irony of that term in this context) who is then effectively shamed and made to feel guilty in both directions by, for the purposes of this, a controlling father and a controlling boyfriend, just the sort of thing we’re supposed to be fighting against now.
The whole aspect of making this part of the Doctor’s character gives me the hoojibs. True, the Doctor’s been seen to give his tacit approval to the partners of companions across the years, usually when they’re leaving the series and with someone they only met four episodes before. The Time Lord usually offers a gruff acceptance that he’s up against humanity’s doings (“Aha.”) before driving off into darkness or a residency at Nest Cottage. The Green Death was partly about Jo replacing him with a younger version. Now we have a scene in which he actually seems quite pleased about it (even if by a strained misunderstanding its not actually the case), in a way, which makes the whole Russ/Ross business in Friends look like a comic masterpiece. Making Danny an actual Matt Smith clone is about the only way this could be worse, I suppose.
As with so much of this episode it could be that I have a disconnect between my own experience and real life, but what is all of this “you can tell a lot about how a person feels about you from the lies they tell” bullshit? Is this supposed to be a Doctor Who spin on Chasing Amy and if it is, shouldn’t Clara’s reaction be the same as Alyssa Jones sending Danny to the kerb because he doesn’t approve of her lifestyle choices? Similarly shouldn’t there be some measure of trust on both sides? But apart from all that, why the hell am I even going here at 23:43 (time check) in the evening after having watched Doctor Who? Well, because as the titles rolled I was genuinely feeling pretty good about the episode, then the gender politics processors in my brain overclocked and all I could see was the blue screen of death.
Perhaps as I intimated in my many qualifications earlier this is the show's writers trying to offer a more granular psychological depth than previous seasons or providing the alternative of actual soap opera to the perceived soap opera of previous seasons. Danny’s whole alpha male “you come and tell me if he doesn’t treat you right” (I’m paraphrasing) speech that she lovingly reacts to is just repellent. If the idea is that we're supposed to feel that way, it's worked. If I’m completely misreading all of this do please set me straight in the comments. The several reviews I’ve seen haven’t had this reaction at all seeing the Doctor and Danny’s behaviour as endearing protectiveness making the title literal, and perhaps it is, but I just didn’t see it that way at all. Clara’s behaviour here is weirdly written.
All of which post-midnight meandering just leaves room for Chris Addison’s cameo at the end and the introduction of a big white corridor, which is whichever writer on much safer ground. Since the policeman’s body is a cinder we’re now left to wonder how he’s able to exist in this space whatever it is. A reconstruction of a version of the Gallifreyan Matrix perhaps? The afterlife? The Restaurant at the End of the Universe? It’s a measure of how much I like Capaldi’s performance in the face of not liking his Doctor that I can’t wait to see him and Addison up against each other again. Perhaps I’d simply prefer this whole thing to improvised and shot on steadycam. Perhaps I wish that it had made full use of its timeslot. Perhaps I’ll look back at this post, as I do so often and wonder what I was on about. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
Film Yesterday's post about TEDx Liverpool wasn't meant to be as cynical as it ultimately became. That is a side effect of having waited so long before putting words to screen. If I'd written something that night, every word would have included a smiley face between. But I wanted to wait until all the videos had been posted to YouTube and that took months. I did genuinely enjoy the day and came away feeling like I could change the world, until the reality set in as usual. The idea of the post was for someone to be able to sit and watch their way through the talks in sequences as they happened on the day, which was quite a complex process because TEDx Liverpool's website's own running order changed on the day and my memory had failed so I had to scour a Twitter search for that chunk of time and piece together the chronology. Or at least I did until I realised that all needed to do was look at @tedxliverpool which posted photographs of each of the speakers and performers in turn...
On the Road
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The film of the week is The Grand Budapest Hotel, which may well be Wes Anderson's masterpiece. Considering his career this is quite some achievement. As purest a distillation of the director's style as we've seen so far, almost a live action version of what he achieved in The Fabulous Mr Fox. The production design is as deliciously detailed as the cakes which the fictional bakery makes within, looking utterly ravishing on blu-ray once you've adjusted the aspect ratio of the television the opening title card ordering me to change the setting to 16:9 taking a couple of attempts before entirely convincing me. Of all the toys and tools which filmmakers have access to but ignore, Budapest reminds us of the strength of the Academy ratio with its ability to force the viewer to concentrate on particular aspects of image and sense of dimensionality without artificial stereoscopy. Oh and the whole thing is damned funny, especially when it breaks out the swears.
A typical example of Hollywood's loss of nerve can be found in the extras on the Taken 2 blu-ray which include a complete alternative version of the final half hour of the film. In this iterration, Liam Neeson is able to save both his wife and daughter and return bring them to the embassy before deciding that the only way to really confirm their safety is embrace a version of the Bush Doctrine and find and kill the vengeful father or as we see in the released cut, at least offer him the choice. In the preceding caption the director, Oliver Megatron, says that he prefers the theatrical with its differing motivation, but that version is an inherently weaker, more generic film with its further damselling of Famke Janssen. Comparing both versions is however a demonstration of how a narrative can be substantially changed with the minimum of reshoots and clever editing around existing footage, with Janssen being removed from the back seat of the car chase scene and inserted into the climactic fight.
Rotten Tomatoes shows that the critics went open season on The Words, with a collective score of 22% and splats everywhere, though its noticeable that the "top critics" were kinder, suggesting they, like me, were more understanding that a film which is about literature is deliberately utilising some literary devices. Utilising a layered structure featuring narrators within narrators, fictions within fictions, flashbacks within flashbacks in order to explain how it is one writer would or even could plagiarize the lost work of a predecessor. A decent comparison would be Six Degrees of Separation with its Russian doll structure, though a bit less complex. Stonking performances from an ensemble cast which includes Dennis Quad, Olivia Wilde, Zoe Saldana, Jeremy Irons and especially Bradley Cooper who demonstrates that he's always at his best when he's understated and introspective. It's currently on Netflix and well worth a couple of hours of your life, if your in the mood for something more demanding.
All of the films I saw this week had some kind of French connection. Here are the three which were in the French language. The Conquest is a fictionalised account of Nicholas Sarkozy's rise to power, which is nowhere near as entertaining as you'd expect because it can't decide if it's supposed to be drama or satire, oscillating wildly between something akin to Peter Morgan's Blair trilogy and The Comic Strip Presents. The Players is a horrific anthology piece in which the usually very good Jean Dujardin and Gilles Lellouche mug through a string of adulterous cretins in misogynistic and entirely unfunny situations which ends on a potentially homophobic note. There's a pretty good Alan Partridge knock-off in the middle though. La Piscine is Jacques Deray's anti-thriller from the late-60s in which Alain Delon lazes around a sun drenched villa lusting after a young Jane Birkin, whose father, Maurice Ronet is rekindling an affair with Delon's girlfriend played by Romy Schneider. Suspicion, sex and random acts of violence ensue.
Life It's the 20th of July at about 8:30 in the morning and I'm standing outside the newly opened Everyman Theatre on Hope Street in Liverpool, looking through a glass door at a table with a sign on it which says TEDx Liverpool. The event doesn't start until nine o'clock, but such is my excitement at actually seeing in person something which I've only previous glimpsed in online videos, I've arrived super early. I'm chatting to a fellow visitor whose travelled across the pennines from Ilkley to be here. He's something of a fan. This isn't his first TEDx. This is mine.
TEDx, like its parent has an odd reputation. Some simply dismiss them as a kind of hipster school in which the holier than thou preach to the unholy, filling in the gap for some who aren't fulfilled by evangelical teaching. That is evident in some of the more airless talks, its true. But that's just one genre. Like their shorter spiritual (sorry) cousins, the Ignite talks, at their best they can be a concentrated way of learning about a subject you might not otherwise have thought about from an expert you've never heard of. As I was about to discover.
09:00Having missed previous events due to work, I knew I had to turn up to this one, at least to see what they're like, to see what happens. Plus I wanted to experience the new theatre without the hustle, bustle and scrum of a play. I certainly got that, although when the door finally opened at a little after nine o'clock and I was the first through, there was still the sense of wanting to be in the right place to get a good speck even though we wouldn't be entering the auditorium for at least an hour. I was beaming as I gave my name to the volunteer behind the counter, beaming as I picked wrote my ID badge.
Cue networking in the upstairs bar area. Or as is usually the case trying not to embarrass yourself in front of a stranger (with the slightly nervous handing over of the ostentatious Moo card with this blog's URL on it), the door opened and we filed in. Or rather the doors opened while I was in the toilet which left me with a mad dash into the auditorium to find a seat. As is always, always the case with these things I installed myself at the front in an empty seat so that I don't have to dodge the head of another human being and have a clear view of everything.
Then the ten minute wait for something to happen, punctuated by a further bathroom visit. If you're on your own these events are always a bit, well, lonely, because the people on either side are always in a group, either because they met someone outside or its some kind of long term friendship commitment. I did manage some small talk with my neighbour, telling her about the Ignite talks at Leaf. Oh and passed on another ostentatious Moo card with this blog's URL on it. Do people bother with these I wonder? Do they, like me have bowl full on their desk? Are you that person?
Herb Kim of Thinking Digital Ltd, is our host and after the above introductory video, he wanders onto the performance space and welcomes us to the event. I'm very excited. The various speakers are all lined up on chairs to the side like contestants on Whose Line Is It Anyway? some of whom I recognise, and not just because I recently followed them on Twitter. Everything looks just as it does in the YouTube videos. I glance around the audience and there are grins aplenty, contagious bliss about being a room with a big red TEDx sign. Let's begin.
Adrian Hon is an old friend of the blog. He wrote about his year for Review 2005. This is in the inspirational speaking genre of TEDx talk and was a fine way to start the day because of that, because it's everything that people expect a TEDx talk to be. For more of his work, he still has a blog, and also writes on Medium. If you look closely enough you can see me in the reverse shots. It's during Adrian's talk that I convinced myself that I might want to join the 21st century and buy a tablet computer soon.
Aha, TEDx immortality. Given how unlikely it is that I'll ever be invited to speak at a TEDx, at least I'm a participant. During the talk, Professor Solomon asked the audience for ways in which viruses can be transmitted and after all the expected mentions of human contact, I suggested the cash machine, entirely forgetting for a split second that this was being recorded and would eventually end up online. The audience thought it hilarious and it gave the Prof a decent feed line. In my defence there was a story back in 2011 about cash machines being as dirty as toilets and even earlier Japan was providing cash points to customers that were easy to clean.
The new Everyman is a very, very nice theatre. In the round like the Globe and the various theatres in Stratford now, there's an intimacy to the space which wasn't always the case in the old building, especially when performers were up stage. There are chairs throughout rather than the old benches up the side. But it still retains the feel of that space with the brick walls and furniture, a conscious decision, as Bodinetz says in her talk. None of which is to say that like the whole rest of Liverpool (ish) I don't miss the old basement Bistro. Nowhere else is quite the same.
Rivetting. Not all TEDx talks are talks. Sometimes they're interviews and in this case a useful choice for the end of the first session with the audience's concentration flagging and perhaps not quite able to hold their attention through something with a more complex structure. Ward's an excellent communicator and Kim simply lets him speak, acting as the verbal equivalent of a prompt sheet. The anecdote about the public meeting is shocking, but there's nothing about it which feels like it couldn't and doesn't happen now somewhere (cf, this recent This American Life).
The event also included these musical interludes. Three items which have nothing to do with the music. Firstly, the YouTube comments which are essentially an argument about what instrument she's playing. Secondly, the number of phones and ipads immediately held up by audience members recording the performance. Thirdly, the event photographers who moved around throughout the performance taking pictures, which was a bit distracting and now seems to be the norm at these kinds of events. This happened during the music but hardly at all during the talks (as far I can remember). Thank goodness there's this HD video for posterity.
11:45Lunch was a bit of a shambles. In the run up to the day the organisers asked that we pre-order a lunch from the Everyman at the cost of five pounds, choosing a sandwich. I chose cheese, expecting it to be a plated affair of some description. At the end of the session I went straight to the toilet (again) and thence to the room where the lunch would be picked up to find brown paper bags on a long table with our names pinned to the side. Shrugging, but still full of the TEDx mojo I picked up my bag which as I walked away promptly bottomed out, a bottle of water, apple, packet of crisps and packet of sandwiches falling to the floor.
I shrugged again, telling the volunteers, that it was ok, it was fine, all very stereotypically British. Except, pathetically, it wasn't ok, it wasn't fine, not least because I'd been stuck with cheesy crisps and an apple which had been on the floor and a wet packet of sandwiches, the condensation on the cool water bottle having gone all over everywhere. Plus glancing around the bar area I saw that others had been given a banana (which I would have prefered) and flavours of crisps I might actually have liked. So I did what I rarely do, I went back and told them all ,the while wondering internally if it wouldn't have been logistically possible to have everything but the pre-booked sandwich available separately.
Yes, that was mistake too. The volunteers had rather been stuck with the whole thing. One of them went to ask a manager with me following, only for us to be told that we'd be seen to when they'd finished with whatever they were doing. The volunteer apologised. I told her it was fine again, because it wasn't her fault and she'd rather been stuck with the whole thing. Then I told her it wasn't because it wasn't, because everyone else seemed to have got their lunch without any bother. So she took me downstairs to the main restaurant where I was able to swap this soggy food, for food I might actually enjoy, like a banana and a packet of ready salted crisps.
Shuffling in for session 2 it became apparent that unlike nearly every such event I'd been to, seating was an every person for themselves affair in which your original spot was of little interest to anyone. Nevertheless I dashed down the stairs like a character from a Wes Anderson film, barged my away through the front row and managed to grab my original seat along with a couple of my original neighbours who then asked me to take their picture with the giant teddy bear. Unless this happened at the beginning of the second session. Either way, I also took a picture of the bear as you can see. I don't think I got his best side. Not sure why everything is so red.
Here's another classic example of TEDx talk, the twenty minute lecture. Baffling but brilliant. Best moment is about three minutes in when this Professor Shears describes something which is amazingly complicated then says, "So, so it's quite simple really..." The laughter speaks volumes. But notice how as the talk continues she's essentially modifying the content because she's realised the level of knowledge within the room isn't quite what she expected so elucidates much more simply. This seems to be a much truncated version of a talk Shears gave at the Royal Institution last year, the whole hour of which is at their YouTube channel.
Even though I couldn't attend the food festival at the weekend due to work (not doing things due to work at the weekend happens a lot), I was brought home one of Lunya's Catalonian Scouses for tea, with its spicy sausage and more tomato and peppers. Gorgeous, although the accompanying bread went a bit soggy in the box. But otherwise, I like Lunya, just as I like all of the shops in the city centre which provide an alternative to the many hundreds of Tescos. Though as this talk reveals, not being a supermarket can be difficult even if what you're offering is this special and unique.
I visited Homebaked during the Liverpool Biennial 2012 (nostalgic sigh) so this was an unexpected and useful update on the project as well as some background to what happened during the festival (nostalgic sigh again). Now the ambition is going well beyond the bakery into regenerating a larger area which is all to the good. By this point the audience seemed to have adjusted to the slightly random nature of the talks and relishing what would come next. Although it's also fair to say that even after all the lunch, both of these talks made me feel very hungry again.
Aha Graham, if only, if only. For years I said that if I ever did win the lottery, I'd travel the world. Turns out you "only" need about thirty thousand pounds. Considering what he's done and where he is, Hughes manages to remain relatively humble, entirely appreciative of the ludicrousness of the whole thing. Unfortunately the sound on this video is horrible, not picking up the auditorium audio from the Skype feed clearly. As an alternative, Graham actually turned up to TEDx Salford last year and gave a similar talk.
More music. More photography throughout. The video thankfully doesn't pick up the ever present beep of one of the camera as each shot was taken. I persevered through my hyper-awareness of other humans. How much does this bother others? Did any of the audience members find this distracting or do I just have an inherent lack of concentration? Perhaps there's a TED talk about this somewhere and if there isn't, it should be. I have the same problem with books. I can barely read tie-in books on noisy buses whereas other passengers seem to be able to pile through literature.
In all of the networking before the show, whenever I asked someone why they were here, and even when I didn't ask but they ventured the information anyway, they said it was to see Sir Ken Robinson. To which I replied that I hadn't heard of Sir Ken Robinson. To which they gave that look, the look I would assume would be something along the lines of that given to anyone who turned up for Glastonbury last year and asked who The Rolling Stones were. But I'd missed this 2006 talk and the ensuing fall out, largely because I was still on dial-up at home and couldn't watch videos easily. One person told me it entirely changed their life. If only I could have afforded broadband back then.
From what I heard and now seen, I think that Sir Ken has managed to become something of a prophet by stating a piece of common sense which most others had overlooked. With charisma. Notice how he assimilates the talks he's heard so far into his answers and utilises them as aids in communicating his own message. Luckily, it's a good message of the sort which might have saved me no end of trouble early on, and even though I don't think seventeen is an age when anyone should be making decisions about their future, I can't also blame the younger version of me for my current inertia.
14:45The coffee scramble. The several giant flasks of coffee, hot water, tea bags and milk all stood next to each other in the middle of a counter which would have been fine for a few beverage hunters but with several hundred crowded around a complete mess as everyone had to first get a cup, then move along to the coffee and then to the milk, except there was no sense of order as is so often the case at these sorts of events. I did manage to get some black coffee in the end, which was nice and strong even if sheer luck meant that some of it didn't spill over. This was scary.
For the third half, Sir Ken assumed presenting duties, beginning with one of my favourite Guardianistas and a message which I wish I paid more attention to on a long term basis. I brazen it, ala Pyramids of Mars quite a bit, but that's not quite the same thing. Harriet Minter's profile is here and her most recent column is about the reaction to Emma Watson's UN speech and the grotesque misogynistic fallout. She's interviewed Arianna Huffington. This is the Women in Leadership section (which looks rubbish in the beta version of the website - the classic version is much more distinctive).
"Awe, doesn't that nearly make you like Facebook." Tough speech this and I think Dan's relaxed approach kept the audience on side. As Apple have noticed over the past few weeks, you can think you're the most user friendly company on the planet, think you're doing everything you can to help the user, but if you do anything which they're not expecting or which is entirely outside the bounds of their taste like give them a U2 album they didn't ask for or a software update which destroys the usability of their phone, they'll hate you.
By this point, I'll admit, I was getting a bit tired. As you can see from some of the reverse shots the target time for each of these talks is twenty minutes and the concentration of them all in the same day was pretty challenging. At home, you have the luxury of being able to watch a couple before moving on and of clicking away if it's not something you're that interested in. The ambition of this is spectacular but I wonder how many of us could safely accomplish the same feat especially with the commitments we might have back home.
Hello Adrian and poor Adrian for needing to correct Sir Ken right at the beginning about his origins. It's fitting that Adrian appeared at TEDx Liverpool given that he helps organise the Ignite meetings and Social Media Cafe, both of which have also featured versions of this talk but with less of his CV, most of which I was entirely unaware of, especially in regards to early mobile browsers. Back in 2009, his Bubbalino appeared at an earlier TEDx Liverpool and can be memorably seen in action during Alison Gow's talk.
Which is what it is. The audience participation at the end was an awkward moment (not least amongst the speakers still sat the edge as you can see) in which a couple of people stood right up, then a few more, then some more, then me, then there were some walk outs. These sorts of interactions always depend on the crowd and their level of enthusiasm. As you can see from the video people did seem to get into the spirit by the end.
The day ended with this final wrap up from Sir Ken which reiterated some of the points from his interview and his original 2006 TED and was an inspiring way to end the day. One of his key messages, that you shouldn't be afraid to say you don't know about something if you're also willing to learn. Apart from team sports featuring balls that aren't Netball, this is something I've always tried to live by and if TEDx Liverpool proved one thing, it's that this is generally a good thing. If only everyone, especially in leadership and political positions believed it too.
17:00Though not for me. The crowd had thinned quite a lot and there is always something inherently difficult about networking after an event because you either end up meeting someone new you wish you'd spent the day with or else the ad-hoc groups have well bonded and its difficult to make contact, none of which I was in the mood for. Plus I was still hungry after the foody double bill. Strolling up Hope Street towards the bus stop still beaming, still happy, I was certain that this had been a day well spent, vowing to put some of the maxims and messages into practice. I'm still trying.
What would the Five Faces of Doctor Who look like today? #DoctorWho pic.twitter.com/8xVhbvQc2M
— Doctor Who Visual FX (@WhoSFX) September 24, 2014
TV The Twitter feed @WhoSFX usually spends its time posting images that generally disprove the still popular if incorrect notion that the production design on the classic episode was cheap amateurish crap. At present it's working its way through the stories which featured in the old Five Face of Doctor Who season which is when many of us first saw the first three Doctors in action and many other realised how devestating the junking process had been to Troughton's era (The Krotons? Really?).
This morning it posted the above photoshop marvel and immediately I began to think about which five stories you would choose for this lot if you wanted to run a homage to the season in the Eggheads slot on BBC Two (though less face it, BBC Three's more likely to replace their usual repeats of Doctor Who with it). Clearly this should be done next year for nuWho's Tenth anniversary, when it might actually make some sense. In an ideal world it'd be the various visages but even after the pretty good ratings for An Unearthly Child last year, BBC Four's was still more interested in reruning Richard Briers.
Some logistics. The old season ran for weeks and weeks and weeks because they "stripped" the various stories across the Monday to Thursday which is why the chosen stories were all four-parters. Logistically, my guess is they'd give this a week. Five days, five Doctors will be the thinking. Which is fine as we'll see. The next thing to do, much as it pains me, is to jettison McGann. Other than running the audio of one of his Big Finish stories with a title card there's not much else you can do. The TV movie doesn't make sense in this context.
Anyway, here are the choices:
The old Five Faces began with An Unearthly Child and this is a sort of homage to that. But it's also a good distillation of the Ninth Doctor with the mixture of goofy humour, poetry in the "turn of the world" speech and someone else saving the day at the end. Plus the whole of the Tyler "family" feature.
Choosing a Tennant story for this context is surprisingly difficult. So much of his era was tied up to arcs or multi-part stories that there's relatively few true stand alones. Blink's generally thought of as his best installment and he's hardly in it but its still very much of and about his era. Luckily another choice, further down the list, gives him a bit more screen time.
The Doctor's Wife.
The crowning achievement of the Eleventh Doctor era. Utterly peerless and a good choice for also having some decent scenes for Amy & Rory.
The Day of the Doctor.
Obviously. The original season had The Three Doctor of which this is an extended homage, plus it has the War Doctor making up numbers. You could run Night of the Doctor beforehand too I suppose to make up the numbers for people who don't believe Hurt counts. But if we're really going down that road you'd have to run two Tennant stories from before and after The Stolen Earth since he's apparently a different incarnation played by the same man or something. Which obviously means he's only had one face so that's still five faces. Oh sod this.
Which is a placeholder for now though even at this early stage, Listen feels like its going to be the episode everyone remembers from this run if not the whole of the Capaldi era. Unless there are some swears in the last fifteen minutes on Saturday.
What do other readers think?
About You will have noticed that I've moved some of the furniture around on the sidebar of the blog. Creative Tourist has rejigged its arts & culture blog awards thingy so it didn't seem right to keep that big yellow block unless by some remote chance I'm not the list again at some point.
So I've hopelessly moved the "support feeling listless" box up so that it's more visible. Wishlists and the like used to be quite the thing back in the day (about ten years ago) so I thought I might try and give it a go again. Not that it's ever worked much for me. I've had a link to a wishlist for the whole of those ten years and only ever received one thing.
So I've hopelessly moved the "support feeling listless" box up so that it's more visible. Wishlists and the like used to be quite the thing back in the day (about ten years ago) so I thought I might try and give it a go again. Not that it's ever worked much for me. I've had a link to a wishlist for the whole of those ten years and only ever received one thing.
Books BBC Books have been pretty quick off the shelf with these three, published just a couple of weeks into the new series, well before views had become comfortable with the new Doctor, Peter Capaldi and written well in advance of much of the season having been written. Given just how different this Time Lord is to his predecessor, this must have been something of a challenge for the chosen authors akin to when Christopher Eccleston was in charge. As then, the publisher hasn’t taken the easiest approach of matching him with some familiar antagonists and so as I read through these in the past three weeks I was very keen to see how they coped and how accurately they managed to portray a character still in his screen infancy.
Mike Tucker’s approach in The Crawling Terror is to go full on rural with the Doctor and Clara pitching up at a village in Wiltshire that’s being menaced by science in the form of giant insects apparently being generated by the strange industrial plant on the outskirts. There are stone circles too, which may have something to do with it. Oh and there’s a full on military presence already investigating though not UNIT because the Brigadier’s in Geneva or the modern equivalent. With references to a “growning wheezing sound” and attempts to find a modern alternative to teeth and curls in the descriptions, Tucker has in mind to offer a loving homage to the TARGET novelisations. If only the format allowed for illustrations.
In this he largely succeeds. All of the ancient UNIT family have analogues, especially Colonel Dickinson who has all the hallmarks of having been written in because Nicholas Courtney’s agent couldn’t make the deal in time. There are moments when the Doctor and these military men are fighting against giant mosquitoes in which you can almost feel Malcolm Hulke taking the opportunity to fill in the CSO gaps, oh so obvious on screen. There’s even a put-upon mad scientist shackled to some disembodied voice sapping his will, the voice behind the face both which provide something the Doctor hasn’t had on screen for some time, a proper nemesis he can say nasty things to.
There are a couple of tonal issues. Throughout Tucker’s pop culture references are well above the proper target audience of the book (even though obviously there’s a chance that target audience has naughtily watched some of that stuff anything). The treatment of Clara is also potentially a bit too trad. She’s largely in character but isn’t a particularly strong part of the story, largely existing to have exposition shouted at her before being put in peril, which seems at odds with how she’s being portrayed on screen where she’s almost the brains of the operation. It’s one of the risks of these early releases, it’s impossible for the author to quite know what’s going to happen in the television series because as I said earlier, they’ve had to finish before broadcast.
In Silhouette, Justin Richards similarly decides to put this new Doctor in a familiar setting, taking leaf from Moffat’s datacore and returning Twelfth and Clara to the Victorian setting and the Paternoster Gang, investigating curious deaths, a carnival and a mysterious anachronistic power source. As anyone who’s familiar with Richards’s Devil in the Smoke Kindle short will know, as well as revelling in the atmosphere of the period, his characterisation of the gang is fabulously accurate and he takes particularly pleasure giving Strax plenty of stratagems involving multiply-consonanted weaponry (which Dan Starkey will take great pleasure rolling his tongue over if he’s given the opportunity to read an audio version).
If Tucker deliberately evokes the Pertwee era, Richards gives off an Eighth Doctor vibe, particularly the novels in the late era when he’d somewhat come to terms with his amnesia but still had the knotty problem of an arch enemy. Through a camera obscura, the novel’s villain Orestes Milton’s plan could just as easily be transposed and carried out for different motives by Sabbath, with the work of his various charges carried out by Trix early in narrative arc. There’s also a prop reference which made me cheer. All of which makes me the more desperate for BBC Books to go back to that era somehow and bring us yet more stories of the McGann model.
As well as the regulars Clara’s especially well characterised too and she’s still an active participant despite the much larger cast of characters. There is one moment which doesn’t quite seem like something Jenna Coleman could comfortably reproduce but other than that her passage through the story doesn’t seem like it could easily be filled by another companion. The carnival’s a bit of a cliché but that looks to be a deliberate choice due to the low pagination of these young adult novels which in attempting to evoke a television story always tend to use a certain amount of shorthand in their world building. If anything some of those old Eighth Doctor novels became too baggy for the opposite reason with their tiny text.
James Goss does his first person narrative thing. James Goss is one of my favourite writers precisely because I can’t remember an occasion when he’s just written something with a straight third person narrative. He’s always aware of the medium within which he's writing. The Blood Cell is the journal of a prison governor in the style of the tired 70s sitcom administrator whose had the misfortune of being landed with the Doctor as an inmate. Having been stuck with the usual routines for years, protocols from on high, here’s this tall stranger and his big-eyed shorter friend to entirely ignore them in a fight to convince him that something has gone terribly wrong in the prison and he really needs to start paying attention.
Prison drama is one of the more oddball of spin-off genres, extrapolating the Doctor’s usual classic episode or so in a cell into full blown narratives, from The Monster Inside to The Infinite Quest to Interference not to mention a few audios with the Doctor’s captivity the ultimate sanction for a person who usually has his freedom in all of time and space. Now we have another reinvention with Goss pressing many of the usual genre tropes about prisoners escaping and causing general mayhem into service on a story which is really all about the enlightenment of a single individual, the narrator and the very person who in these kinds of stories is never enlightened with the Doctor showing every sign of wanting to be there.
As Goss himself said in the previews to the novel in Doctor Who Magazine, if his Twelfth doesn’t sound quiet right he has the narrator’s memory as an excuse. While its true that just now and then he offers a few instances of a Tennant-like "Brilliant", what we have here is Capaldi’s bruiser, the odd inconsistencies an obvious result of the governor’s oscillating trust. When he and Clara speak it’s almost like reading script pages, the infamous café scene from Deep Breath an obvious template. Most of the other characters are just the sort of figures you’d find in prison films, and like Richards’s carnival members, that’s a deliberate choice due to the shorter pagination of these young adult novels.
How well do these authors portray the new Doctor and what clues it might give us for how he’ll appear on screen going forward? Goss also says in the preview for these novels that “there’s definitely a moment early on in Episode 2 that made me go, ‘Oh, well, that’s different’”. Tough he doesn’t elucidate on what that is, my guess is when they’re in the Dalek’s stomach and cruelly suggests the other soldiers might want to say a few words over the remains of the colleague they’re currently standing in. It’s dark stuff in which the Doctor’s alieness comes to the fore looking at the bigger picture of everyone’s safety rather than individual feelings. They’re almost the reverse of Pertwee’s moments of charm when his gruff arrogance melts.
Well, in The Crawling Terror, there is a scene in which the Doctor could intervene but for various reasons doesn’t in which we get the feeling that The Waters of Mars or similar situations wouldn’t have been quite as much of a moral dilemma (are the consequences of his previous incarnation’s actions the reason he has that face?). The Twelfth Doctor of Silhouette is a rather more benign presence, generally just a bit rude and grumpy. He’s also pretty amiable in The Blood Cell, until the business of things because apparent and there’s a moment when he screams at Clara as a representative of humanity and its failings which is pretty full on. The Doctor will be your very best friend until you cross him, or someone from your species does.
In all three cases there’s rarely a feeling that we’re hearing some generic Doctor of the kind Russell T Davies cautioned against when receiving the scripts for his first year and which turned up early on in the Eighth Doctor novels. The dialogue would seem to fit Capaldi and it’s difficult to imagine Tennant or Smith doing much of it, almost as though this incarnation has taken to heart the Hurt Doctor’s protestations. As I say, if anything he’s closer to the classic incarnations, notably Tom, which as we know shouldn’t be too much of a surprise since that’s who the initial television writers were told to work with initially. But as we’re seeing on screen the Twelfth Doctor is developing into a very distinctive new incarnation and that’s reflected in these books.
All three are out now from BBC Books, priced £6.99 each. Review copies supplied.
Film Film industry perpetuates gender discrimination, says UN-backed study:
"The report, details of which were revealed yesterday by the actor and activist Geena Davis, found that fewer than one third of all speaking roles went to women, who were also largely absent from positions of power. Only 22.5% of the overall fictional big screen workforce was shown to be made up of female employees, and fewer than 15% were portrayed as being employed as business executives, political figures, or in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and/or mathematics."As you will have noticed this is something I perpetually mention in my weekly round-ups, the number of roles taken by men in films which could equally and potentially more interestingly by played by women, usually in positions of power. It's disheartening to notice how, despite the success of Lucy, despite the audience's obvious interesting in seeing it, a Black Widow film still hasn't been green lit or at least been scheduled with due courtesy to Scarlett Johansson's maternity leave and that MARVEL are more interested in filling the potential slot with a Doctor Strange film.
Music So So Gay offers a pretty good defence of Sweet 7, the "Sugababes" album which is widely thought of as killing the project:
"Believe it or not, Sugababes were coming for the Pussycat Dolls’ sound. It was out with the quirky-yet-accessible pop the group were known for with monumental records like ‘Push The Button’ and ‘Hole in The Head’, and in with auto-tuned vocals, guest rappers, and well-exhausted lyrics about getting crunk in the club.I mean it's not good enough for me to want to go and listen to the thing again, but it's worth reading for how it notices that the creative forces have had much success elsewhere and that to some extent, it's promotional mismanagement which hampered its success.
"The result wasn’t actually altogether as woeful as the eventual album sales and chart position would indicate. Even though Sweet 7 peaked at #14 in the UK and was branded a catastrophic flop, it still charted higher than the first Sugababes album, One Touch, (which hit #26). Where One Touch earned Sugababes a mostly favourable comparison to All Saints, Sweet 7 eerily echoed the cursed reception of Spice Girls’ final studio album Forever. Did the British public catch a nauseating case of déjà vu? Oh, not another well-loved English girl group posing a little too hard for the American pop-R&B market."
People Oh, well, congratulations. Writing in The New York Times:
"I DID not expect to fall in love at 46, and I did not expect to plan a wedding at 47. Except that I always expect to be surprised.
I would love to say that I don’t know why I never got around to this until now, but that would be a big fat lie. I never got married because who would want to? I was the worst girlfriend ever. And yes, I am the crazy ex-girlfriend you hear about. I had no regard for time of day or time of year or time at all. Perhaps I just had no regard. It’s not like I called boyfriends at 2 a.m. because something was wrong: I did it because I liked to talk in the dark when there was nothing good to watch on TV anymore."
TV Decades from now when Doctor Who Magazine has a few pages to fill between the interview with Christopher Eccleston on the occasion of him finally agreeing to record for Big Finish and The Time Team’s review of Alien Bodies (because there’s no stopping them), a successor to Steve Lyons will be tasked with trying to explain the ingredients for what makes a middling episode or clutch of episodes. Having scanned through the franchise’s seventy five year history, no mean task considering by then, hopefully, television and everything else is all treated on equal footing, the author, pushing a deadline will start to make a list of episodes which don’t quite come off, which are nice ideas, pretty well executed without the wow factor then begin their analysis.
Creating such a list won’t be easy because as we all know, Doctor Who is amazing even when it’s rubbish or as is the case for the purposes of this article being crafted in the future, middling. There’s a general consensus about amazing episodes and stories. There’s a similar consensus about utter rubbish. Our hack in the future will no doubt have a recent poll available in order to help filter those out. It’s to the middle of the table he’ll be glancing, to the stories which are just sort of there, which tend to find themselves watched by fans who’re working their way through everything in order but no one bothers to watch out of choice. Perhaps within the next twenty odd years there’ll be a fair few more middling adventures. Perhaps and let’s finally get to this, Time Heist is so middling, so inoffensive, so bland that it simply gets overlooked.
At the risk of pre-empting the task of this journobot, let’s try and break down exactly what constitutes a middling episode (and for the purpose of this I’m going to use “episode” even though I agree that it’s incredibly annoying when its done in relation to the classic series – but this isn’t the classic series). In short, a middling episode is one which has all of the elements of a Doctor Who story (Time Lord, companion, hijinks) but leaves you feeling nothing at the end and not quite knowing why. Amazing episodes make you want to punch the air. Rubbish episodes make you angry and not a little bit appalled. Middling episode make you think, "oh is that it". But I thought... Oh, nope, that’s it. Which in it’s own way is also appalling but because you can see that someone was at least trying you can’t be too angry.
Which is where I was as the Doctor wandered his empty TARDIS in the final scene having just dropped everyone off. Due to dematerialisation montage, I was expecting something else, some extra twist in which it turned out he’d found something else in the private vault, something which made the whole thing more worthwhile than what the actors apparently describe as a Moffat loop but then we’re into next time, a Matt Smith lookalike in a staff room, Capaldi wearing Tennant’s brown coat and no inadvertent Eccleston reference at all. “Oh. is that it?” I wondered out loud as I sighed and went off to the kitchen to fill the water reservoir on my Tassimo machine. How am I going to review that? As I loaded the Kenco coffee pod into the top, a mug underneath and pressed the button on the front, I thought, what would Graham Kibble-White do? Then realised I had no idea what.
Presumably you’re expecting me to give examples of other middling episodes. In the classic series, it’s The Savages. It’s The Dominators. It’s The Mutants. It’s Meglos, Terminus, The Mark of the Rani and nothing in the McCoy era because everything is either amazing or rubbish. In nuWho terms, it’s The Long Game, 42 and Night Terrors. Of course the problem with this process in relation to older episodes is that we’ve probably passed through them enough times to be able to set aside the flaws in favour of the gems (even The Mutants – “It’s…..”) so it’s easy to forget the initial reaction of the shrug, the “oh well that was, wasn’t it” and “well they can’t all be as good as…” and “could have been worse, could have been Fear Her…” The Doctor Who fan, probably Frank Skinner, equivalent of justifying a goalless draw.
How in the case of Time Heist do we get to “oh, is that it?” Genuinely, I think, in this case, a large proportion of it, ooh 60% at least, is because the twists aren’t strong enough. The notion of the Architect gives every impression of being some higher power, so even though from the opening scene he’s already our default notion, because we’re watching a show that’s generally clever than that, we’re expecting something less obvious, that the Doctor’s chain being yanked by some higher power ala The Scream of the Shalka and for their identity to be left dangling at the end, presumably to be revealed as being Missy or some such. When the Doctor realises that he’s giving himself instructions from the future it's incredibly disappointing. It’s another Moffat loop. It’s The Big Bang (amongst many other things). Again.
It’s a rescue mission rather than a bank heist. Fair enough, that was a surprise, but is it good enough? The idea of monsters being nothing of the sort and simply wanting to be free really is getting old, isn’t it? We’ve had one nearly every season in the Moffat era, from the congregation of limbs in Hide to the Minotaur in The God Complex. The surprise here would have been if the Doctor’s been hoodwinked into freeing the two of them and they decided to go on a murderous rampage anyway as revenge for their captivity. Plus The Teller (everyone is a definitive article in this episode) is an example of a mono-trope monster who offers more questions than answers about their phylogeny. As they head off to repopulate their species, what exactly do they eat without memories and brains of others to feast on?
Same the reveal that Ms Delphox is a clone of her own boss. Well of course she is. You don’t hire Keeley Hawes under these circumstances to play the lackey. It’s the Doctor Who equivalent of a murder mystery series having a pretty decent actor in amongst a bunch of unknowns. The surprise here would have been if Karabraxos had turned out to be played by someone else or a recognisable character under an assumed name. As the scene began, I thought as I always do that it’d be Davros. Then, with Absolom Dark glimpsed earlier in the episode for about three seconds as they entered the private vault I even thought it would turn out to be an annex of the Braxiatel Collection and we’d find Jenna’s Titanic co-star Miles Richardson sitting in the chair. Instead I was in the criminal position of being disappointed to see Keeley Hawes. Again.
Of course they’re not dead we don’t care enough about them yet. Even for Doctor Who, Psi and Saibra’s characters are so minimalist, the script notes for them must have been written in haiku. Well I call shenanigans. I bet when the Pixley special’s published, we’ll discover that each of them had originally been gifted with an extra introductory scene, which went south either in the filming or editing. True, it’s a trope of the heist genre (and placing the Doctor in this kind of story is an idea so good Big Finish have their version discounted this weekend) that some of the protagonists are reduced to their ability (safe cracker, explosives expert), but as was also the case in Voyage of the Damned, when you try and force functional characters into the structure of a series which tends to be richer in that regard it never works. Compare this to The God Complex. Now imagine The God Complex with all of the character’s introductory scenes left out.
Which means that after their ten or twenty minutes of screen time when Saibra’s “killed off” despite the Doctor’s reaction, and to be fair all of the other actors really try to sell it, we’re not convinced she’s dead. She’s simply not had enough screen time. Same Psi when he makes his sacrifice. The surprise would have been if indeed they’d stayed dead, but the tone of the piece, however much it was trying to be Hustle with the lights off, doesn’t allow for it. When the Doctor and Clara are finding their rewards in the vault that just confirms it because there’s no particular reason why they should expending so much screen time over the search unless the items will turn out to be important later and the only reason they could be important later is if the people they’re meant to be for are going to be around to use them.
All which looks, very, well, very in hindsight and a lot of me trying to suggest how clever I am for working all of this out ahead of time, but the point about this is, I didn’t work all of this out ahead of time. The point about these twists is that none of them are especially surprising even though the suggestion is that they’re supposed to be. In his DWM editorial this month, Tom Spilsbury bemoans the fact that the media previews of these episodes contain “a big friendly notice” which ironically contains the very spoiler that they don’t want to the previewer to mention before the episode goes out. As he says, “it’s like being hit over the head with an irony stick”. You can imagine what these spoilery spoiler warnings are for the first four episodes. Whatever it is for Time Heist, it really can’t be anything like as good.
What of the other 40%? That’s the little things. The niggles. Like having the Doctor and his companion watch as The Teller kills someone for the purposes of showing how The Teller kills someone even though it’s entirely out of character. Well, we say it’s out of character. The obvious argument against is that this new Doctor’s a bit, dark and dangerous so won’t step in because it’ll break his cover, but don’t for a second think Clara wouldn’t and that she didn’t diminishes her character. There are other ways of achieving this. Other episodes have shown this sort of death outside of their field of reference with the Doctor then knowing the methodology anyway later. Even as it stands, I’m sure it would have been possible to produce a version in which the Doctor or Clara save the guy and are still able to carry on.
That scene also includes a weird piece of direction in which The Teller walks in slow motion (abetted by the soundtrack) while the other characters are standing and talking in normal speed. If they too hadn’t also walked into the room in slow motion for no reason other than because Hustle (again) we might have imagined this was going to be part of The Teller’s physical presence within the space and that for the rest of the episode every shot of him would be slow motion which needn’t look as silly as its sounds done carefully. Indeed, it could have been that is disappeared when he was reunited with his kin. That would have been an exciting way to go. But as Michael Bay fans know dramatic walking in slow motion is just dramatic walking in slow motion unless it has a point and when it doesn’t it’s the very definition of middling.
None of this is as easy as saying, well, it’s a Steve Thompson episode, what do you expect? Both his previous episodes were middling too and also, now that I come to think of it had “they’re not really dead” twists of one form or another. One of them had a Moffat loop too. But it’s co-written to some degree by Steven Moffat who, it’s clear from the Phil Ford interview in DWM had a pretty hands on role in rewriting the scripts for this opening six episodes in a way that Russell T Davies did during his entire era. With that regard until we see a similar explanation from him we can’t entirely level the middlingness with Thompson this time. It’s Moffat’s own middling The Beast Below which offered the notion of the hero having their memory wiped.
When, in the future we look back at Time Heist because it’s on the blu-ray between Listen and The Caretaker, what will stop us from simply skipping it? Capaldi’s really in his stride now and the same director who brought us slow walking, still knows exactly how to make him fill that space, with his face distorted by domestic appliances, an entirely alien presence in that house in comparison to his predecessor who was completely at home in a kitchen. Jenna Coleman’s predictably good even if she’s given less to do this week and does her very best to justify her position in the aforementioned scene even if both hers and Capaldi’s lines sound as though they’ve been recorded later and stuck on because the production team have noticed that there’s a hitch.
Indeed all of the performers are treating it as the best job they’ve ever had, and if we have any empathy for Psi and especially Saibra its because of Jonathan Bailey and Pippa Bennett-Warner’s instant likeability. Hawes is called upon for panto and that’s exactly what she offers us though the approach to the character in and of itself is very obvious, very middling. Compare her to Ms. Foster in Partners in Crime or Diana Goddard in Dalek for examples of how not to be obvious or middling. Because both of those had a drop of humanity their ultimate fates, negative and positive had weight. Keeley is predictably proficient, but because Karabraxos is effectively a new character in that final scene, then having us care about her regrets is a really, really hard sell.
Where does this leave the journobot of the future? Pretty dissonant. Beyond “oh, is that it?”, middling episodes don’t really have transferable rules, for the same reason that amazing episodes can still have rubbish monsters (magma beast) and rubbish episodes can have amazing performances (Maurice Denham). It’s intangible, a feeling, a sense, it’s “oh, is that it?” The journobot will probably have no choice except to contact the editorbot and suggest something about androids, Thirteen Doctor Romola Garai or the current state of the omnirumour instead. At which point I’ve probably stretched the whole “sending the idea for an article from the future into the past” review idea well in excesses of being interesting (assuming it ever was) causing this whole blog post to be pretty middling too. Sorry about that.
Art Things and stuff in the end meant I didn't attend the announcement of the result but here's the news you've probably heard already. It was on the Today programme this morning. I don't remember that happening to the John Moores Painting Prize before. Press release as follows:
ROSE WYLIE CLAIMS UK PAINTING’S BIGGEST PRIZE
80-year-old artist scoops £25,000 first prize, sponsored by David M Robinson
Rose Wylie was announced the 29th winner of the John Moores Painting Prize today at the Walker Art Gallery where the Prize was established almost 60 years ago.
Rose was awarded the £25,000 first prize, which is sponsored by David M Robinson, for PV Windows and Floorboards, selected from more than 2,500 entries.
The painting, which features four disjointed female figures set in a linear white gallery space, is typical of Rose's work. Often drawn from protracted memories, the compositions of her paintings appear as dream-like sequences, in which details are imperfectly recalled and sketchily represented.
Director of Art Galleries, Sandra Penketh, said: "PV Windows and Floorboards is a striking painting and a worthy winner of the John Moores. Rose's work instantly demanded attention when it entered the judging room and it was clear from the start it would be one of the highlights of this year's exhibition. The painting achieves an interesting balance; containing bold colours and form but also a sense of mystery and an unfinished story.
"Rose's personal story is very exciting. At 80 years old she happens to be double the average age of previous winners. Her style is fresh, unpredictable and cutting edge, and is everything we’ve come to expect from the winner of the John Moores."
The name Rose Wylie now joins an impressive lineage of UK painters who have been awarded the prize. From David Hockney (1967), Mary Martin (1969), Peter Doig (1993) and Sarah Pickstone (2012), who announced this year's prize, the John Moores’ 'back catalogue' of winning paintings (most of which reside in the Walker's permanent collection) represents over half a century of British Art; featuring Kitchen Sink realism, abstraction, pop art and figuration.
Rose will be giving a free talk at the Walker Art Gallery on Saturday 20 September at 1pm.
The four shortlisted artists who each receive £2,500 are:
Sometimes I Forget That You're Gone by Rae Hicks
Vinculum by Juliette Losq
Brutal by Mandy
Jessica by Alessandro Raho
A major part of the Liverpool Biennial, the John Moores Painting Prize is a free exhibition which runs until 30 November 2014. Fifty paintings (including the prizewinners) were selected for exhibition from more than 2,500 entries.
Dubbed the 'Oscars of the painting world', the Prize, organised in partnership with the John Moores Liverpool Exhibition Trust, has been keeping its finger on the pulse of contemporary painting for almost 60 years.
The 2014 judges were Tim Marlow, Director of Artistic Programmes at the Royal Academy and artists Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Zeng Fanzhi, Chantal Joffe and Tom Benson.
The John Moores Painting Prize is part of National Museums Liverpool's Modern Masters series, part funded by the European Union - the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
It is also supported by our exhibition partner Weightmans and sponsor Investec.
For a full list of exhibiting artists: www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/johnmoores
Twitter: @johnmoores2014 #jm2014
The John Moores Painting Prize with Alexei Sayle is aired at 7pm on 21 September on BBC 4. The programme, which examines the history of the Prize as well as its place within contemporary art, includes interviews with this year’s five shortlisted artists as well as Sir Peter Blake, Peter Doig and Jake Chapman.
Film Here we are then in the brave new future of exactly the same. Which feels good either way. No one likes uncertainty and certainly this unit didn't enjoy the uncertainty of what was going to happen his it's beloved BBC should Scotland have gone independent. With ever plan to stay awake all night and sleep all day, when it became apparent, even after for announcements we were witness a forgone conclusion, I dragged myself to bed at about half past three, awakening about three and a half hours later for the confirmation. The television presentation itself, at least on One was the now customarily boring efficiency presided over by Huw Edwards with all the surety of purpose of John Harriman at the helm of the Enterprise-B. The revelation of the evening was Sarah Smith, whose razor sharp, tactical interviewing style demolished contributors left and right, giving every impression she should have been presenting the thing instead and probably Today or Newsnight in the future should she want to.
The Sword and the Rose
Le chant des mariées
One of those rare weeks when I don't really have much to say about any of these films. The most fun I probably had was this lunchtime watching Non-Stop, with its many twists, turns, Neeson channeling his inner Qui-Gon in places and Michelle Dockery in the 90s Sandra Bullock role. Oh and Julianne Moore elevating all the material just by being there, though I'm bound to suggest that there's not one element of any of this which wouldn't have been even more interesting if her and Neeson's roles hadn't been reversed. Stake Land's vampire road movie's the other purely generic piece on the list offering not a single moment which hasn't been seen elsewhere, essentially cross matching the DNA of Daybreakers and Zombieland but with less levity. Both made me rather nostalgic for the old Blockbuster days when you'd walk into the air conditioned shop full of anticipation of what was on the new release wall, see hundreds of copies of both, that evening's entertainment well provided for.
Killer Joe and Promised Land seem like odd bedfellows but they're both attempting the same trick of having the audience sympathise or at least identify with a morally dubious character. Of course they couldn't be any more different, Emile Hirsch's misguided hick and Matt Damon's shill for the fracking companies, and their story arcs similarly drift in opposite, if inevitable directions. But there's a moment in each when their plans go south that we feel genuinely remorseful. The essential problem in both is that the viewer also realises how they're being manipulated, patronised almost, so ultimately lose their sympathy with the filmmaker instead. Yet both stay watchable because Matthew McConaughey's eponymous Joe is so damn charismatic and Damon's so likeable even though the twists in both are entirely obvious. Perhaps they're supposed to be. But I'd worked out both within seconds of the merest whiff of the related characters appearing on-screen and I really wish I hadn't in both cases.
This week's two French language films are also thematically connected, about young women being emotionally manipulated by their partners. Structurally Suzanne is a female counterpart to Boyhood presenting snatches from a girl's life until she gains her independence, though shot with different actors, in a much shorter schedule and with a darker tone. It's involving but structurally problematic because it can't decide if it should focus on Suzanne's life of crime or her family's reaction. The Wedding Song follows Jewish and Muslim friends torn apart by family and politics in Tunis during World War II, at a moment when the Nazis are pretending to be a benevolent force in Arab lives. Five years later Lizzie Brocheré who plays the Jewish girl here turned up in The Hour as Freddie's wife Camille and is an astonishingly powerful presence especially in a scene when she's being painfully "prepared" in the "Oriental style" for her oaf of a husband. Ugh. My French cinema "serendipity engine" continues to offer its surprises.