World Enough and Time.



TV First of all, squee. Squee, squee, squee, squee, sequee, squee. Squee.  Next of all a brief discussion of canonicity in Doctor Who and the (ho, ho) genesis of the Cybermen. As anyone who's visited the Cyberpages on the TARDIS Datacore will know, the creation and history of the race is a narrative mess. Lance and Lars's AHistory, the chronology of the Who universe helpfully summarises that "DWM has offered two distinct origins, Big Finish, a third" and that co-creator Gerry Davies provided his own origin story which was published in David Banks's Virgin book about Cybermen.  Lance and Lars then decide that although these stories might seem to contradict one another the're going to spend a page reconciling them anyway, explaining, I shit you not, how the Voord from The Keys of Marinus and indeed Marinus itself could be the Cybermen and Mondas at some earlier point in history with Marc Platt's audio Spare Parts, up until this point the accepted origin for the old Who Cybermen set much later.

Assuming that Moffat is deciding to allow television to contradict Big Finish and everything else which has gone before that hasn't appeared on television ala George Lucas and the Clone Troopers, the simplest answer is the one I've always favoured and which in the past few years the showrunner himself indicated.  Time can be rewritten.  Mondas's history has been changed somehow and whereas before they might have been Voord or the Fifth Doctor became mixed up in their origins, now its something all the more complicated involving a colony ship and black holes and numerous Time Lords.  Presumably we'll discover next week what this has to do with The Tenth Planet.   David Bradley appearing as the First Doctor at Christmas can't be a coincidence.  Unless it is.  Either way for pedestrians who hopelessly dragged themselves through the wilderness years, or indeed people like me whose fandom was born in one of its stormy oases and cherish those stories, thanks to this being a time travel franchise and the existence of the Faction Paradox and what have you, all of this is fine.

World Enough and Time is a return to the Steven Moffat whose work is practically unreviewable in any meaningful way.  By which I mean it's so, so good, so unlike anything else which this series has had to offer that to try and talk about it in the usual sense of "is the story interesting?" or "how are the characters?" you're on a hiding to nothing.  Everything is impeccable.  The performance.  The set design.  The music.  The SFX.  The meticulous direction from Rachel Talalay who is really having a bonzer year between this, Sherlock and whatever acronym they're using for the DC TV shows.  But unlike Hell Bent, which was also the best episode of its series, he's still working within the confines of a recognisable Doctor Who format, albeit poking it in the eye ("exposition and comic relief").  This week instead of Bill becoming separated from the Doctor by falling though a hole, it's because someone made a hole in her.  Sob.  So let's talk around a few things.

Anyone who's seen Interstellar will be aware of time distortions around Black Holes and its a clever way of introducing a similar two track narrative with Bill becoming another girl who's waiting (a deliberate callback?).  As Eddie Robson notices, during her captivity , it's as though she's watching 60s Doctor Who on the monitor ("rapt even though it was very slow") or as Clayton Hickman adds, from her point of view a series of telesnaps.  Bill's observations of the Doctor's behaviour are just the sort of micro-analysis which fans often conduct when they've exhausted all other avenues of discussion or the professionals when they're trying to distinguish each of the incarnations in prose.  They're the writerly equivalent of the fan versions of merchandise covers with Moffat suggesting some of the descriptions Terry Dicks might have used in a Target novelisation.

Speaking of Target novelisations, is this the final word on Doctor Who then?  Given that he once signed his name as such and the whole WOTAN business, it's really just a confirmation, but there'll still be some who'll question if it is needed.  But think of the benefits.  The Cushing films, TV Comic and annual stories now have some added canonicity for one and it does explain why the title of the programme doesn't include an actual question mark.  Like Ally McBeal and Veronica Mars, his full name is in the title.  The previous approach to this, in the Virgin New Adventures, was to create a figure called "Doctor Who" as a comment on those earlier stories in which the Doctor's characterisation was slightly "off".  But given how much the Fourteenth Doctor's changed in the past three years, the television Hartnell and the one in the comics isn't that much of a stretch even if it's nearly impossible to account for when they're set in his timeline unless he nipped off for a bit in the middle of The Romans.

Was John Simm's reveal supposed to be a massive surprise?  Some on the social medias say they clocked him from the publicity photos although I only realised after about his second appearance when I wondered why the actor was wearing make-up then noticed his eyes and how his voice sounded and so the fact he was John Simm.  How many people were genuinely that shocked when he ripped away the mask?  I have no memory of my original viewing of Time-Flight so I don't know how convincing it was to my young mind even with the Ainley version of the Master talking to himself in disguise.  But were many viewers giving it the full Yana when Simm dropped the accent here?  Despite the availability of the RTD era on streaming and shiny-disc, how many of them will remember he was a younger version of the character and his fate in The End of Tennant?  Having him remind us that he was once a PM was a nice touch.  Remember back in 2010 how we chortled that there'd be no way a meglomaniac like him could become leader of the free world?  Hum.

How did the Master survive whatever it was that happened to Galifrey back then?  Has Missy herself even explained?  Isn't it curious that she doesn't remember anything of these events ala Time Crash - a return of the meticulous Moffat who bothers to even mention something like that as part of the "reveal".  Is it something to do with her "death" and the reason she was in the vault?  Expect a "So you escaped from Castrovalva. I should have guessed" type conversation next week.  This an episode designed to generate questions - not for their own sake as happened towards the end of the last series but with all of the potential that there'll be answers.  There's still the nagging query about how much the Doctor remembers of Clara and if he and Missy have had a chat about that (cf, Eighth and Iris in the novels).  Would he be as quick to try and rehabilitate her given the business which happened at the end of season eight?  How much more tragic is it that yet another of his companions/assistants/friends finds herself in a state of between mortality and being part of the mortality rate amongst TARDIS travellers.

The tear.  Goddam.  How dead is Bill?  As seen in Torchwood, the survival rate for unconverting human's isn't too high.  Judging by the available technology, a brain transplant doesn't look likely ("Ianto? Ianto, it's me. It's Lisa. I'm human again").  Her reveal recalls the gut wrenching worst of The Age of Steel but with the old style Cybermen this even creepier with their sing song voices and human hands.    Plus that episode set alt.Jackie up to be something of a monster which meant we cared less about her conversation than we do about Bill whose clearly not the person who made that horrible joke in her first moments on the series eleven weeks ago.  Giving her the Danny Pink treatment is bold but she can't possibly stay this way.  Could the Doctorm utilise the properties of the ship somehow to drop in earlier in her timeline and save her, with a localised time distortion being outside the web of time as some kind of justification?  Why is she wearing the exact same clothes as in the minisode, Friend from the Future?

Which returns us to the start of the episode and the Doctor's regeneration.  Apparently, Moffat's original plan for the 2010 season if Tennant had decided to stay on was to have his regeneration in the opening teaser and then spend the rest of the season tracing backwards/forwards to the moment and explaining how he got there.  Is Moffat's resurrecting the idea here?  It doesn't seem like a fake out.  The Doctor looks physically older, broken, his jacket frayed at the edges, his hair even less unkempt than usual.  It's not unusual for the Doctor to enter this moment in defiance ("I don't want to go...") and given the setting, an icy world, it's entirely possible we're seeing the final moments of the Christmas special.  Although, I haven't completely ruled out the idea that in fact Capaldi is going to regenerate at the end of the series, but somehow return as an earlier version to help his new incarnation to find her vortex legs.  Imagine if they could pull off this reveal next week, finally making up for what didn't happen in 2005.

Which brings us to one of the more interesting conversations in the episode about the fluidity of Time Lord genders.  The Doctor jokes about not remembering if they were a woman in the past but unless this is some shocking tease from the writer taking the piss out of a section of the fan base, or the new Rani's a bloke, this has to be foreshadowing for when Romola Garai (or, I'll concede, whoever) emerges next week or at Christmas.  Moffat rarely writes this sort of scene without a reason.  He's apt to do this kind of introduction, to clear the air, to justify some new twist.  Another notable example is Eleventh's phone call in Deep Breath which was a way of reassuring fans who'd joined during his USA breaking tenure that it was OK, that the show would continue without him (even if he failed to mention that some of us would end up hating his successor within a few episodes).  All of which depends on lead times.  Did Chris Chibnall make his choice early enough for Moffat to write the dialogue and someone to film it?  Late pick-ups?  It's going to be Kris Marshall isn't it?  Sigh.

A Quick Word About De-Caffeinated Coffee.

Beverages Seeking refreshment at IKEA Warrington yesterday after finding just the right set of shelves for once, I decided to visit the cafe for some apple pie and coffee. Large signs everywhere advertising filter coffee, freshly brewed with some nice pictures of same. I duly paid the 0.95p at the check out when took the mug to the dispensing station only to find that there is indeed freshly brewed filter coffee - unless you want decaff in which case its sachets of Kenco Instant.

Not being able to have caffeine for medical reasons is the worst at the best of times but having to pay the same price for a couple spoonfuls of the same stuff I'm stuck using at home instead of what's available to everyone else, well, it's the worst. I bristled. I considered taking it up with a manager. But then realised it would have been a corporate decision so took the damned instant.

For those of us living in a decaff world, options are limited. Some supermarkets, even the Tesco Metro in Clayton Square don't have non-caffeine products in the beverage section which means we have to looking further, harder. But it's even worse when you're in a restaurant or cafe and have to deal with it. Last time I visited The Garden cafe in FACT I was charged extra for decaff and the situation on Virgin Trains is similar to IKEA, a sachet of decaff Kenco for the same price as filter. Over two pounds in that case.

Decaff is presumably less popular than the "proper" stuff which is why these other arrangements are made. Why have an extra machine for something which is selected by just a fraction of the potential audience? Starbucks can justify the expense presumably because they have the volume of traffic, although they only have one type of decaff and it's only available as Americano, not as filter coffee.

If nothing else, this has made me appreciate what it must be like to be a vegetarian or vegan in a carnivorous world where restaurants cater for the larger market first and almost include veggie food as an after thought. At some point in the future I'll hopefully be able to return to caffeine and the kick (oh the kick) but until then I'll keep cherishing those place which make an effort to include everybody.

"Hatred can become like food, it gives you this energy that you can like, live off of."

TV This Guardian piece about shows cancelled before their time features many shows championed by this blog, including Party Animals and My So-Called Life:
"“So I started hanging out with Rayanne Graff, just for fun. Just ’cause it seemed like if I didn’t I would die or something.” Gripping from the very first lines of Angela Chase’s internal monologue, this was as gut-wrenchingly true to a girl’s high-school experience as it’s possible to get. My So-Called Life catalysed every corridor crush, every parental let-down, every wild urge to be free. Even seemingly simple moments like Jordan Catalano approaching Angela in a hallway made a million teens shiver."
Pleasingly includes many a UK show and probably all present and correct. To the list I'd probably add the Sally Philips starring Bridget Jones done properly work place comedy drama Rescue Me ("It's James Lance!"), NY-LON (Rashida Jones before she was famous) and North Square (everyone before they were famous).  Also points for not mechanically including Firefly, because arguably Serenity allowed its story to have a natural end.

Free Tickets for Led Zeppelin.

Film After watching the only ok tragicomedy Love Happens tonight due to my addiction to watching deeply average Jennifer Aniston films, I wandered into YouTube searching for Mark Kermode's review. He didn't or if he did it isn't up there for posterity.

 Instead I stumbled upon this clip from back in 2007 when the Good Doctor appeared in the last half hour of Simon Mayo's own show and sometimes met the guest before. On that day it was Jeremy Clarkson and it's frosty if polite. But the key moment is towards the end when Clarkson mentions who he received his Zeppelin tickets from:



Oh, ok.

Elizabeth Wurtzel interviewed by Liz Phair.

Film A piece on the Interview Magazine website on the occasion of a reissue of Prozac Nation. This paragraph in particular resonated:
"I see sexism everywhere, and I think it has to do with that. I've begun to blame sexism for everything. I've become so overwhelmed by it that, even though I love Bob Dylan, I don't want to listen to Bob Dylan, because I don't want to listen to men anymore. I don't care what men have to say about anything. I only want to pay attention to what women do. I only want to read women. I'll tell you how intense my feelings about this are: You know The Handmaid's Tale, the show, which is feminist in its nature? Because men are behind it, I don't want to watch it. That is the extent to which I am so truly horrified by what is going on."
Increasingly I'm drawn to women's stories in film and female-led films because I've also felt like I've seen enough man stories already. But the other point about The Handmaid's Tale has also been a concern - the key creator of the series is male. But the gender of the writing and directorial staff is roughly fifty/fifty so to an extent I'm ok with that especially since the source material is from a female author.

Let's hope that the success of Wonder Woman will lead to more films which don't just have a female protagonist but also director and writers which is something even that film didn't accomplish.

"Either shut him up or shut him down!"

Film You will have heard that Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have creative differenced their way out of the Han Solo film with three weeks of principle photography left. As ever their fans have suggested this is all a Disney/Lucasfilm problem but I'm taking rather an Ant-Man approach to this, that Edgar Wright's directorial style was never going to fit within the MCU as it is now.

As the Hollywood Reporter suggests Lord and Miller across all of their films have favoured an improvisational approach, and however much I like their work, I thought it was an odd choice that they be hired in the first place especially with Lawrence Kasdan writing the script. Why get Kasdan to do the work if you're going to allow the actors to throw it all out or talk around what's on the page?

Plus it doesn't fit with Star Wars, with its high adherence to a "canon" and in defining the back story for one of its iconic characters.  However far away from the house style Rogue One strayed, it was still quite recognisably a Star Wars film, especially after the reshoots and we don't really know the extent to which what happened was due to Gareth Edwards straying from formula.

Perhaps they thought Lord and Miller would like the Russo Brothers in MARVEL take whatever their sensibilities they have but remain focused on it being a Star Wars film rather than something of their own.  But it sounds like they wanted to do a 21 Jump Street and bend someone else's property around their own ideas, which again, I don't think you can do with Han Solo.

We'll probably have some inkling eventually of what occurred, especially in the run up to the release of the film.  The interesting thing will be how much is going to be reshot with the new director and who will eventually get the credit.  Will it be a joint credit or will the new person receive final name?  There's no way Lucasfilm would release this with the modern equivalent of Alan Smithee.  Probably.

Updated 22/06/2017  Ron Howard's taken over, which is reassuring.  Here's my guess.  Massive, massive reshoots and the film is pushed through to a December 2018 release and he'll get sole credit.  No idea why its being released as a Summer film anyway.  Star Wars is the perfect replacement for Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter as the end of the year treat.  Slash film has some unverified accounts of what happened behind the scenes and it sounds like they weren't delivering the Star Wars film as expected.

Not Adam Curtis on Slides in Films.

History One of my favourite past times is looking out for culture which is almost but not exactly like some other source, conscious or not.  Probably my favourite is Miami Rhapsody in which David Frankel seems to have attempted to make a Woody Allen film even to the point of casting Mia Farrow in a key role.

 Now, here's the Adam Curtis version:



The loopy political connections, the giant text over archive footage, featuring a shot of Reagan's attempted assassination.  Did Fandor know?  About the only thing missing is River Deep, Mountain High running over the conclusion. Plus it's always good to be reminded that we do live in the reality were Robert Altman directed Robin Williams playing Popeye.

Sony's Spiderverse now in the MCU.

Film News broke last week that Sony were developing a Venom film and possibly something with Black Cat and Silver Sable but that they would not be in the MCU ala the X-Verse. My reaction was of course, please stop, but there's an interview now with Amy Pascal, producer of the films sat next to Kevin Feige in which we discover that indeed they will be set in the MCU. From Twitter:


The io9 version of this story becomes quite vexed about continuity and contradictions but really what we're probably seeing is something akin to the television arrangement, ABC and Netflix, stories set in the MCU without impacting what happens in the main Disney films.  In which case, why not?

Of course where this leaves my theory about the Watchers in the Stan Lee cameo in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 representing different MARVEL film universes which still have an underlying connection through him.  Unless the third one is from the Tim Story Fantastic Four films.  Yes, that'll be it.

The Eaters of the Light.



TV A few years ago, deep in the thickets of the Matt Smith era, I often noted on here how the only way to experience a more traditional stand alone adventure was to listen to an AudioGo exclusive cd or read one of the novels. Amid the split seasons, story arcs and experiments with the format, those stories in which the Doctor and his companion(s) (depending whether Rory was dead that week) turned up at a place and protected the local population from some monster didn't really exist, at least not without some link to the whatever the central mystery of the season was.  Meanwhile writers like Una McCormick, Oli Smith, James Goss, Gary Russell and friends turned these characters around a more familiar narrative idea albeit experimenting with an epistolary format or some such.

The Capaldi era and more specifically this season has seen a return to these kinds of stories, apart from prologues and epilogues referring to whatever's up with Missy.  Smile, Thin Ice, Knock Knock, Oxygen, Empress of Mars and now Rhona Monro's The Eaters of the Light all fit within that category.  For the most part you could imagine a prose version for each of them recorded by a past season luminary like Dan Starkey or Keeley Hawes to music which sounds almost but not exactly like Murray Gold (to sit alongside the current crop from BBC Worldwide which have pretty much carried on where AudioGo left off).  None of which should be assumed to be a criticism.  The audio reading of one of those spin-off novels, Johnny Morris's Touched by an Angel is my favourite story of that era in any media including television.

It's why this season has felt most "Doctor Who" of the Capaldi era.  Indeed much of what initially happens in Monro's episode is near identical to last week.  The Doctor decides to investigate mystery.  He's quickly separated from Bill who becomes trapped after falling through a hole and they each meet different factions in this particular environment who will ultimately have to unite in order to battle a common foe.  But there's something inherently comforting about that, inherently Saturday night.  Genre is about giving the audience what they expect whilst changing the formula just enough for them to give them some originality.  Last week the Empress of the Ice Warriors emerged, this week an inter-dimensional being that wants to suck the life out of everything.  Insert contemorary political commentary here.

But the key difference is in Monro's ability to utilise the scenario and explore ideas about how young people are thrust into positions of authority and responsibility and then chide themselves for making a mistake or poor decision because of how they've been psychologically crafted by external influences.  This gives the episode a darker tone than usual in which people in their late teens find themselves making supreme sacrifices for the greater good which for all the episode's attempt to make it seems like a positive decision, about enemies working together, creating eternal music together, is nothing but nihilistic.  That's something the AudioGo standalones were often unafraid of too - their textual brevity often gave the writer leave to end with a sombre or ambiguous conclusion.

All of which is helped immeasurably by a strong set of "locals".  The Picts and Romans are both archetypes with the teenage wing of the Ninth Army opposite the cast of Brave but the performances from this young cast really sell the pathetic nature of their predicament.  Cleverly, both sides are simply extrapolations backwards of more familiar figures of recent times, with British Army squaddies underneath the Italian breastplates and millennials with swords on the other side.  Offering a veneer of strong words over an interior riddled with fear makes them perfectly relatable even if their individuality doesn't reach much beyond a few traits.  Though it is good to see the show bother to touch on Rome's more open attitude to gender and sexuality and in a surprisingly nuanced way.

Amongst the current time team, Capaldi has some of his very best scenes and speeches of the era, "Time to grow up.  Time to fight your fight."  This is a Doctor who's entirely in control of how he treats people, with sarcasm when its necessary and compassion when its essential.  Once again I ask - why couldn't we have had this man for the other two seasons, why did we have to sit through that hateful jerk who makes season eight so unwatchable?  Meanwhile Bill reveals her growing authority, stands up to the Doctor as he watches yet more humans sacrifice themselves on his behalf, due to his all too perfect ability to persuade them to do so through his sheer presence.  Mackie's performance has developed ten fold across the season and shows real facility and relish when the material demands it.

Those spin-off stories would also enjoy the opportunity to visit underserved locations while the television series was either off world, Wales or somewhere within the M25.  Here we are in 2nd century Scotland with its epic scenery and unlike Tennant in Tooth & Claw who had to pretend to have an accent that was really his, Capaldi's able to speak as broadly as he wants.  In an interview with this month's association manuscript, Rona Monro indicates that Moffat did a final pass on the script and added some extra jokes -- I wonder how many of these were the digs against his native land.  That's a brilliant interview incidentally, demonstrating how much of a fan of this show Monro is explaining a playwright of this renown would not only return to the show after all these years but do so with such an understanding of how it's constructed.

If there's a particularly weak element it's the adversary, another in a long line of monsters which seem designed to be difficult to merchandise.  Lovecraftian CG creatures are fine and god knows the last thing we need is something like the Mandrills or the Fisher King blundering around.  Plus I used to complain about the armies of identical aliens who populated the Russell T Davies years. But it's another week without a new iconic monster that the Doctor Who Figurine Collection could slap on their cover in between a Monoid and a Machine Gun Dalek.  True, we glimpse something inside the portal but they're barely on screen long enough to make an impression.  What is Neill Gorton doing these days?  Four episodes of Class, a Red Dwarf and Lady Chatterley's Lover.  Nothing on Who since Last Christmas (the episode not the chronological days).  Well.

Let's talk briefly about the Missy business.  What if she's being sincere?  With the John Simm Master making an appearance next week you could foresee a situation in which the Doctor and the former Prime Minister of Great Britain fight to influence her intellectually and emotionally with the latter fearing that she might become his equivalent of the Valeyard or The Eight incarnation of The Eleven, the good one.  The close up at the conclusion of this instalment seemed to be waiting for snidely eyebrow raise but none was forthcoming.  Since Scream of the Shalka, there's seemed to be some merit in having the Doctor's arch enemy as his companion and now we might actually get to see again what that looks like.  There even seemed to be an uncomfortable beat of romance somewhere in here.

Another fine episode then in a series which began lightly and has gained weight.  Not all of the AudioGos were brilliant sometimes hampered either by weak writing or a disappointing reading.  No one seemed to get Amy's accent right, not least Alexander "Xander" Armstrong who didn't even bother when it was his turn, preferring to read all of the dialogue and descriptions in the same way.  But in the final embers of Capaldi's era, there's a genuine sense of the show finding its feet, its purpose and thank goodness.  Even if I still can't see the point of Nardole, who was especially objectionable here, but I was able to tune out for the most part as you can see from this otherwise positive review.  Hopefully during the finale we'll discover what he was actually here for.  It had better be good.

"All the world's waiting for you, and the power you possess."



Life Let's catch up again.  Like most of you, I sat through the utterly thrilling evening that was the latest General Election through the elation of thinking that a Tory Government might not be certain to realising, oh shit, they're going to make a go for it and taking some homophobic misogynists with them.  Labour were within a 2.5 swing of becoming the biggest party and it's entirely possible to infer that some of the constituency losses were because of the date chosen for the election and students not being registered at home in time.  As soon as same day registration and provisional ballots are introduced in the UK, the better.  I said recently that the universe is not without a sense of humour and even though I don't believe in god much, I believe that.  Thursday night was a prime example.  Some applause too for the BBC fielding one of the most diverse presenting teams in history, with I think more women than men which just added an extra poignancy to the evening.

That Wonder Woman is one of the greatest comic book films of all time goes without saying and a triumph considering the astonishingly poor material surrounding it in the DCCU (or whatever Warners are calling this).  Bus Dodge only really became a decent film once Diana smirked with pleasure at the fight (a moment improvised by Gal Gadot who then had to explain why to her director) and her solo entry is that attitude writ large across two and a half hours.  The surprise for me is how funny it is but without stepping on MARVEL's goofier toes seeking a slightly drier, subtextual approach reliant on wordplay (the boat conversation a notable example).  Plus it subverts the male gaze by taking it out of the equation.  I can't think of a single occasion in which they cut to Steve Trevor to see his reaction to her beauty in a typical way.  For the most part she's viewed with a contagious awe.  Amazing.  Amazing.

That was Monday.  Tuesday was spent in the company of the BFI's new BD release of the restored print of Abel Gance's Napoleon, a stunning achievement both from its director and the film historian Kevin Brownlow, who gathered together material across fifty years attempting to recreate the original vision.  Throughout it's entirely possible to forget that it was made over ninety years ago.  Gance produces shots and cuts with relatively primitive technology which are tricky even now on digital materials.  What surprised me too is the range of different types of storytelling from what's effectively a teen film through war sequences and a romance.  Even on the 22 inch screen which sometimes rendered the image incoherent, it's impossible not to become swept up in the grandeur as hundreds of extras fill the screen giving the impression that Gance was actually there shooting a documentary.

This weekend I was given a Bodum ePEBO Electric Vacuum Coffee Maker, which is something I didn't even know existed beforehand is the without shadow the best coffee machine I've ever owned.  Looking like something straight out of Morbius's laboratory, it speed heats the water in the bottom jug which them shifts up a spout into a vacuum-filled fish bowl were the coffee rests, continues boiling and brewing then returns the bottom, repeating the cycle one or twice until its done.  Even the decaff I'm forced to drink tastes rich and full bodied.  The process works equally well with various leaf and fruit teas after I've emptied the contents of their bags into the bowl producing a perfect cup each time without the bitterness which sometimes comes from leaving a bag in a mug stewing for too long.  Since this is something which is usually outside my price bracket, it's been a lovely treat.  Pity I'm so scared of breakages.

The Empress of Mars.



TV Good evening ladies and other genders, I give you my favourite episode of the series so far. No purportedly clever opening paragraph here, no wandering off into some personal blogging cul-de-sac in an attempt to put off the inevitable shrugs and sighs, The Empress of Mars is a winner, baby, and that's the truth (that's the truth).  Woo-hoo.  If this is Mark Gatiss's last episode for the television series (not that there's any indication of that), it's a pretty good summation of his favourite tropes and ideas, a televisual Last of the Gaderine so authentically Who that it demonstrates once again  that for all Steven Moffat's reliance on showrunners nervously turning out a first Who script which in the end feels like the work of someone who only thinks they know the franchise, it's no replacement for someone who has it running through their creative veins and written more stories about the Doctor than anyone else this series.

When reviewing Gatiss stories in the past, it's always been customary for me to stick up for the writer early and so here we are again.  Apart from Sleep No More, which I thought was a misstep but Graham Kibble-White adored enough in the friends publication that I'm looking forward to re-evaluating when I finally get around to a binge through the Capaldi era after Christmas (I've only ever rewatched about the first five episodes of series 8), there are few of the writer's stories I haven't at least admired and have indeed thought better of in retrospect (notably The Idiot's Lantern and Night Terrors) even taking into account how much of them are filtered through a show runner rewrite or whatever an actor decides to improvise on set.  Of everyone I hoped would take over when Moffat leaves, he was at the top of the list, but it's understandable he's reneged on attempting to tame this all consuming monster with so many of other creative vices available.

What makes The Empress of Mars so special?  Simplistically but resolutely because it feels like "real" Doctor Who, which is paradoxical given how much of the past few episodes have attracted my dismay at their derivativeness.  Except there's a big difference between pastiche and appreciating the core elements of a series, and simply lifting wholesale from previous stories.   An unfavourable review might point to how we're watching a group of humans blunder into defrosting another tomb full of monsters having seen that process before with Cybermen and Silurians with the Doctor mediating at the centre, or relying on some less xenophobic element of humanity to do some such.  That Gatiss recycles his notion from Victory of the Daleks of humanity arrogantly putting an alien race into servitude even though in reality they're the ones serving their captive visitor in some other cause.

Yet as the preview in this month's fan circular demonstrates, all of this is a feature rather than a bug, from a writer who had the bug to feature all of his great interests in one script.  He says he wanted to do "Tomb of the Ice Warriors", to finally show the "monsters" on their native planet even if it isn't at the height of their empire (still too expensive) and to have them facing up against a Victorian opposition in a homage to the film adaptations of Wells and Burroughs.  To somewhat repeat the point, it's someone writing from a position of knowledge about what's gone before and doing more of that rather than assuming they're creating something new which has actually been done before but for some reason no one's bothered to tell them because they probably haven't noticed.  Or they have but just don't care, forgetting that viewers can actually watch old episodes again.

But perhaps the biggest difference in The Empress of Mars is that Gatiss isn't trying to put some "modern" spin on all of this; he's gone out of his way to produce a script which would work just as well in any era.  Again from DWM, something which would pass the "Dad" test of being simple enough for anyone to follow.  There's a version of this story which fits just as snugly into an old school four or six episode structure with the Doctor and Bill spending a whole episode in the cell and Friday's reveal as the first episode cliffhanger.  Second episode cliffhanger is the reveal of the Tomb.  Third the Empress.  Fourth the opening of the tomb.  Fifth the Doctor standing between the humans and Ice Warriors guns pointed at one another.  You'd have to have some other story strands but yes, that would work a treat.

Dialogue wise too, with the exception of the film references, the Doctor and Bill are in full on generic Time Lord and companion mode and with a few tweaks, Tenth and Rose or Tom and Sarah could easily be slotted in almost as a homage to Sir Terrance's dictum that the Doctor himself doesn't change, it's about the actor's interpretation.  Capaldi has the opportunity to be the benevolent alien and Pearl an exposition sponge and in a week of uncertainty on both sides of the Atlantic, there's something rather comforting about that.  When the Doctor runs after Bill as she falls down the hole in the ground, I don't remember seeing Twelfth treat the moment with such irrevocable terror.  For some reason, the Doctor's likeability rating always goes up when he seems to care about the well being of his friends and Capaldi's charming here.  Imagine if he'd been like this all along.  Imagine, imagine.

Unlike most episodes this series, we're also greeted by a supporting characters with relatable back stories who we care about when they die.  Deliberately referencing Zulu, Gatiss offers a mix of naive young officers, grizzled old hands, villainous racists and shaky commanding officer.  What I especially enjoyed about these red coats is that that they're actual Victorians on Mars in Victorian times, not the results of a times coop or Autons or some other replica.  If only there'd been the budget for a flashback to their voyage aboard Friday's ship, the juxtaposition of these moustacheode fellows and interstellar technology recalling the crew of the R101 roaring against the Triskele Uncreators in Storm Warning (yes, I know they were Edwardians but go with it).  Look everyone, I'm referencing old Eighth Doctor spin-offs.  That's how energised I am with the episode.

The Ice Warriors too are brilliantly realised, developing what we've seen before rather than wiping away ala the Silurians.  Perhaps noticing that the CGI unsuited version in Cold War wasn't quite as good as it could be, this lot remain in armour and although I miss original destructive imagery and sound from the 60s, the new flesh compactor is just horrible.  The simplistic leadership of Iraxxa the eponymous contrasts well with the simple minded buffoonery on the human side of the argument.  Thank goodness we're witnessing a Moffat loop - without the Doctor, these two would slaughtered one another.  Iraxxa actress Adele Lynch only has to tv credits, this and a couple of episode of The Bill in the 90s.  Her Spotlight entry indicates she's mainly worked on stage and that she's a capable dancer, which is ironic considering the most actors playing Ice Warriors can do is stomp around a lot.  I wonder how she ended up here.

All this and a couple of moments of pure unadulterated squee.  Does the BBC have to get permission for Pauline Collins to reprise her role as Queen Victoria in pictorial form?  On top of that, Alpha Centuri with Ysanne Churchman reprising the role from the Peladon stories she last played forty odd years ago,  having last appeared on television as "Woman in Street" on Alan Bleasdale's Oliver Twist adaptation for ITV in '99 (along with half of Christendom) and better known as ill-fated Grace Archer.  Even Big Finish recast her.  Gatiss almost set this on Peladon itself and this whole business leads naturally to wanting a sequel set there with all the usual attributes of an uncertain ruler, intergalactic saboteurs, human miners and a cameo from Ageddor.  The story's also set in 1881, the year of The Gunfighters and I like to think that the Last Chance Salloon is being hammered out down on Earth while all this going on.

Even the Nardole scenes didn't grate too much this week, even if as usual they only seem to exist so that Matt Lucas can be in ever episode because they like working with with him.  One of these weeks I long for his "and" in the opening titles to be replaced with one of Mark Strong's "but"s.  Perhaps its because it is a classic Who move to have the TARDIS unavailable in a tricky situation and we now have the added mystery of why she decided to fly off without them, refusing to land until Missy became involved.  Incidentally Michelle Gomez's version of the character has quietly passed the Rubicon into absolutely haunting.  There are numerous ways she could have played those final lines and in choosing honest concern, backed up by Murray's glorious Ligeti-tinged vocal cue, we're left in pieces in a way which demonstrates that evil is always more potent when it's entombed, waiting to be uncovered.

Melon Farmer.



Film Sony Pictures have announced they'll be releasing "clean" versions of their films as extras when people digitally buy the theatrical version. In other words, what you'd expect to find on a plane or on network television in the US (and as used to be the case in the UK until films stopped being shown in prime time outside of national holidays). Here's the Yahoo Movies version of the story.

My first reaction was "What?".

But my next was surprisingly sanguine.

Outside of the use of the word "clean" which somehow implies that the theatrical version is "dirty" in some way, it's not as though that version is being suppressed.

I'm not a parent, but I imagine that there will be films that we'd be happy to show our kids were it not for some elements which we don't think they're quite ready for.  The BBFC website offers guidance on the content of some films for this reason.

If the cuts are done sensitively and keep the overall story intact (unlike the murder perpetrated by Channel 4 on the likes of Angel or Alias back in the day) well then fine.

Quite often alternative lines are shot as part of the schedule anyway.  There's a great extra on the Cornetto trilogy dvds (Sean of the Dead etc) which takes the piss out of this and it does mean that you don't have to endure poor dubbing of the melon farmer variety.

That said, some of the items on the list seem ludicrous.  How the hell do you clean up Easy A, Captain Philips or Elysium?  I'm actually intrigued enough to want to watch some of these versions just to see what's cut out / massaged in order to remove the "objectionable" content.

The Sony video above has a sense of what's been done and sure enough, it's mostly new dialogue and alternative shots. True enough in removing the swearing some of the comedy is bled out, but given the titles selected, you could argue that if the only source of comedy is the swearing, they need to try harder.

So, yes, strangely, fair enough.

 Plus kids will then have the surprise of seeing what was cut out when they're older, much as I did when I saw the non-tv version of When Harry Met Sally back in the day.  I never did quite understand the argument scene outside the brownstone until I bought a copy on VHS and realised the BBC had cut out several fucks.

Why Vote?

Politics So it's election day again tomorrow and here's the usual slightly rambling open letter pleading with you to use your democratic right. It was originally posted back in 2005 so thought it was about time for a refresh:

Dear Disaffected Voter,

Hello again. After the complete mess that was 2015, the pollsters have been compensating this way and that. But what's especially interesting is those who're weighting their numbers depending on the number of young people who'll get out the vote. Servation and YouGov are optimistic about this and said that if enough young people turn out, a hung parliament at least might be in the offering. That it could be inevitable if the turn out is at least 78% across all voting ages.

The turnout is generally about 60%.

There'll be some of you who won't be voting because for some reason you simply can't. You recently moved house and didn't have enough to time to get your vote moved to your new house. You'll be on holiday and the whole postal voting thing couldn't be scheduled properly with while you're away. Those and a whole raft of perfectly good reasons. I'm not talking to you.

I'm talking to the rest. You'll be split into two camps. Those who can't be bothered and those who don't see the point. Yes, you. You idiot.

If you're insulted by that, you should be.

The biggest idiots are the ones who can't be bothered. The ones who have the facility to vote, aren't impeded, but simply can't be arsed walking all the way to the polling station, even though there are enough of them that the local will be in the next street. Do you realise you're screwing things up for the rest of us? Here is a list of the knock on effects of you not showing up.

(1) It makes us all look bad. There are certain parts of the world were people don't have the choice of more than one party, for that matter the ability to vote at all. Not naming any names. In some of the these places people have been killed whilst they've fought to get the chance to choose who they want as a leader. By noting voting yourself, you're pissing on their fight because you're devaluing what they're fighting for. You're like Cameron's dad in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Lovely car parked up in the garage being wasted. Take it out for a spin once in a while.

(2) It's not a fair contest. By not showing your support for a party, whoever wins won't necessarily have won because the country wants them to be there. It'll be because the majority of 60% of the country wants them there. Which isn't the same thing.

(3) It makes you look bad. If you can't be bothered spending twenty minutes of the day going into a room in a school somewhere to put a cross on a slip of paper, a process which has been made as easy as possible now (now that they even print the name of the party on the ballot paper) what frankly are you good for?

Now there are the rest of you who are making a point of not voting. My Dad believes that everyone should be forced to vote by law, even if they show up and spoil their ballot paper. Within the current system it's your choice and right not to vote. So there will be a percentage of people who don't vote because they believe it's sending a message that you're unhappy with the political process in this country. There are a couple of flaws to this plan:

(1) Politicians don't give a shit about you. Because you didn't turn up at a polling station, come the day they don't even know you exist. If you don't like the political process the only way to develop it is to engage with politicians and ask for that change. Some of the parties have ideas for reform using systems such a proportional representation which means that every vote is counted.

(2) Your plan only works if no one votes. Like that's going to happen. No matter what you do, someone will be Prime Minister on Friday.

There are some, who aren't voting because they say that the manifestos and party policies aren't offering anything to them. What doesn't occur to you is that manifestos are written to interest the various demographics of voters. So if you don't turn up, you're not a voter so why should they try and attract you with tailored policies? So effectively if enough of you people turned up and voted, it'd frighten the shit out of the politicians and they'd have to start listen and developing useful policies so that they can keep you on their side. There were no policies effecting women in manifestos until women got the vote. It's pretty much the same thing. You turn up, so will they.

I know this has been a bit freewheeling. If I'd wanted to I could have found a bunch of statistics and anecdotal evidence to back up some of these things. But I thought I'd go for the simple, direct, approach because don't think I've said anything which you don't already know.

I'm just trying to give you a nudge.

Even if you turn up and vote for a man with a bucket on his head you'll at least have the satifaction of knowing when the announcements are made, someone who just wanted to have a bit of fun hasn't lost their deposit.

Just don't waste you vote. Pick a party and go.

And if the one you pick doesn't win, there's always next time....

Stu.

My Favourite Film of 1896.



Film You’ll already know the story about L'Arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat (watchable here), that on its first public projection the audience was so amazed by the realism of the vehicle heading from the background to foreground that they thought it might continue into the auditorium and vacated the building in a panic. Martin Scorsese parodies the moment in Hugo with an actual train crash through a railway station (albeit in a dream sequence). The Wikipedia page has a short discussion about the veracity of the story or at least the cause of the audience’s reaction, but the point is that if it did happen, that audience had a reaction, a visceral, physical reaction to a film, however short it is.

Over the past couple years and before I’ve talked about my own emotional reaction to films. Crying tears of awe on seeing the olyphants in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Puking my guts out one Christmas whilst watching Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan. Shouting during a screening of Like Water For Chocolate at an inopportune moment. Running myself out of a screening of Texas Chainsaw Massacre unable to cope as soon as the meat hooks appeared, leaving an empty screen at the Showcase Cinema on the East Lancs Road. Sobbing through Titanic at that same cinema, indeed sobbing through numerous movies. Most recently shouting Blinovich’s name right through the end of The Lake House (luckily at home where no one but me could hear).

Looking back, for the most part, none of these seems to have anything to do with the real purpose of the given film. Does a comedy make you laugh? Does a drama take you on an emotionally satisfying journey? Does a thriller literally thrill? Is an action film actually exciting? Aren’t the best films capable of many or all of these? To that we might include those films designed to provoke an intellectual response which is still a reaction of a sort although I’d argue that the best of that type of work is capable of making us laugh or cry on the way to making us think. But ultimately this is still predicated on who we are, or experience. Pauper’s Jack Black and humour vacuum Josh Gadd has enough admirers to sustain his career.

Tarkovsky’s Stalker has one of the funniest scenes in cinema and a really mind bending conclusion despite for the most part allowing us to meditate on voids and losses and the search for a purpose. When the three men, who we’ve watched walk for over an hour through a deserted, apocalyptic wilderness reach their destination at the centre of the zone and hear a phone ring it’s impossible not to laugh due how unexpected it is. Did the filmmaker expect that? The laconic performances suggest so as the characters seem as surprised as us, but in what’s otherwise a relatively serious film, we’re as surprised to be laughing as much as they are to hear the phone ringing. Did Tarkovsky build to this emotional release?

There’s strong evidence the brothers Lumiere wanted to scare their audience or at least find realism in the image. The position of the camera looks like an early experiment in 3D and the film was later reshot with a stereoscopic camera and rescreened for screening in 1935 along with numerous similar experiments. It’s speculated that perhaps the audience ran out of that screening when indeed they did in fact have the train unexpectedly coming towards them and that reaction has become attributed to the earlier event. You would think that the audience might have become more cine-literate by the 1930s but considering how some couldn’t see the artifice during early screenings of The Blair Witch Project decades later, a spellbound audience can be convinced of anything.

Perhaps we should simply agree that for any piece of art, especially cinema, to provoke any reaction is a good thing, even if it’s unintended. Laughing at the ineptitude of a film might not be what a filmmaker expects but they should take some solace in the fact that enough people care enough about it to actively dislike it. How many mediocre comedies, dramas, thrillers and art house pieces pass by without notice. The makers of Texas Chainsaw Massacre would surely have preferred me to stick around for the final hour of their film (otherwise it would have been a short) but they’d probably get a kick out of the fact it scared and sickened me to the point of wanting to run for the exit. I’m certain that nothing could replace the relief I felt at the auditorium doors clattered behind me.

Class Dismissed.

TV Ish. Sort of. Patrick Ness posted this a couple of hours ago:


Essentially he's saying that if the show was going forward it would be in production now, but it's not happening and he's not waiting.  He says that BBC America like the show but blames BBC One's scheduling despite its "critical acclaim".  So it's effectively cancelled barring some last minute resurrection.

A few things to unpack here.

The iPlayer treatment of the show was a headscratcher.  The publicity for the show was relatively minimal given the pedigree and it seems they expected it to work as a viral phenomina in the style of Fleabag or Thirteen.  That didn't happen and even people who like Doctor Who didn't know it existed despite Capaldi being in the first episode.

Given that but still with the need to have it broadcast on network television, the BBC bunged it out on BBC One late at night as they do with a lot of BBC Three shows.  At least it didn't get shoved out in the middle of the night as happened with the last series of Orphan Black the BBC had the rights to.

If Class had been loved online, there was always the possibility it could have found an earlier timeslot but its forty-five minute format isn't a natural fit in prime time now on BBC UK when most shows are either thirty or sixty minutes outside of early evening Saturday night. But if it had been good enough, they would have found a way.

But it just simply wasn't that great, not Being Human great or Misfits great or Buffy great despite its attempts at such.  After a decent first episode, the storytelling became increasingly muddled and the overall premise and promise of the show didn't follow through.  See my old reviews for a longer version of that opinion.

Yet it is a show which has ended on a cliffhanger.  There could be a comic book conclusion perhaps, or Ness wiill write a novel, or Big Finish will pick it up in a few years ala Torchwood (although I don't know the extent to which Miracle Day is going to be resolved).  In the Doctor Who universe, nothing is ever final.

The Lie of the Land.



TV Netflix announced the cancellation of Sense8 by Netflix this week, which was disappointing but if it didn't work within their secret metrics of streams plus sign-ups then entirely understandable. Each episode reputedly cost $9m presumably because of the globe spanning storylines, numbers of main and secondary characters and actually looking generally very expensive.  Perhaps if there's enough of a protest, they'll at least allow for a wrap up film of some sort.  The show ended on a stunner of a cliffhanger with all kinds of interesting new pieces of mythology about how the clusters are networked together.

None of which has anything to do specifically with The Lie of the Land, other than that Sense8 provoked in me a similar excitement that the Who revival used to, in which I adored all the characters, enjoyed the innovative execution and applauded the ambition.  Every season and episode felt like it had some import and there was a joy to the whole thing, even in the more nihilistic moments like Turn Left or SOD U LOTT.  Yes, I know, moan, moan, moan, but Moffat's persuaded to stay final goodbye tour doesn't feel like the work of someone who's finally trying out all the ideas he's been saving.  It feels like a managed decline in desperate need of a Hestletine figure.

The Lie of the Land is fine, but it's no more than that and I want it to be more than that.  It's the kind of story we've seen in the past from the various iterations of the franchise when a particular mode of the format has gone on just that little bit too long and it's starting to repeat itself in a rather pronounced way.  Late era VNAs or EDAs or on television deep into the eras of the longevity Doctors (in terms of story number), Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee or Baker #1.  They won't be too objectionable when seen later during an extended rewatch and ... oh I'm starting to repeat myself.  Well, if it's good enough for the show ...

If the episode's at all watchable its because of those central three performances.  Writer Toby Whithouse (and whatever Moffat's interpolations are) and Capaldi trade in our memories of the arsehole who wandered around pretending to be the Doctor in series eight to convincingly suggest the Time Lord really joined the monks in oppressing humanity, because it seems like just the sort of thing that cretin would have done.  The actor plays it up to a tee, especially that horrific toothy grin which makes him look like a toothbrush with a hernia during the addresses to the people of Earth (excellent way of introducing the new world order too in the teaser ala Woody Allen's Zelig).

That smile changes considerably when the Doctor flips back into the more benevolent Tennant-lite figure we've generally enjoyed this season.  In the final moments under the statue he's utterly charming, explaining once again how humanity tends to be oblivious about alien invasion once they're over.  For the most part.  At this point, I don't think it's clear how much of everything which has happened to this version of the Earth has stuck from the past few years.  Did the cracks take care of the whole of the RTD era?  Rebooting the universe?  Or is the influence of the Faction Paradox still around?  Has Miracle Day not happened now?

Michelle Gomez's interpretation of Missy has gained considerable depth and like the suspicious Doctor we're not entirely the sure about the extent to which this new found soul is real or just another plan to gain her best friend and our confidence before unleashing some new mischief on the Whoniverse.  It is odd that she didn't reference her own utilisation of a similar methodology from The Sound of Drums, but perhaps it's best when you are re-iterating some earlier story idea not to actually remind the audience too much (even if most of them can go back and rewatch the thing immediately on their favourite streaming service).

But the linchpin of the episode is Pearl Mackie who like numerous companions before her decides that the only way to save the world is to sacrifice themselves.  On this occasion it's because of Bill's own foolishness, albeit in an attempt to save the Doctor (and the future of the franchise), but watching the actress reveal her character's realisation of such and how to mend the Earth it is utterly compelling, as good a piece of companion performance we've seen in the past few years.  Usually such moments are reserved for final episodes so we'll have to see how her story arc plays out for the remainder of the season.

As for the rest of this instalment?  Well, like I said it's fine.  As of late, it's all too tempting to simply produce paragraphs listing the moments in other episodes which resemble this one.  Someone on Twitter posted a photograph of Clara holding up her parental leaf from The Rings of Arkansas and another noted the similarity of the Monk's logo to Saxons and from there the parallels are so shameless that to actually write up a list would be entirely pointless.  I almost simply reposted my review of LOTT but it could just as easily be The Wedding of River Song or The Impossible Astronaut since its re-imagined universe and alien hand-holding business shares much with them too.

But it also lacks scale in comparison to those stories clearly attempting to portray a global threat on the budget of one of RTD's cheaper episodes with statues photoshopped onto postcards of landmarks and an increasing series of sparsely designed sets where scenes continue slightly longer than you might expect.  I'm not imaging this am I?  Are we watching a show trying to hide a cut in budget or at least a reduction in available resources due to everything otherwise costing more overall?  Surely there has to be some way of telling interesting stories without trying to ape the past whilst simultaneously failing to replicate the grandeur.

The episode also lacks compelling secondary characters within whom we see the effects of the memory changes.  Bill's housemates or dates from previous episodes  would have been perfect for this but for either budgetary reasons or availability we're left with the central characters and a more localised insular view.  We might also wonder how all of this has effected the Doctor's friends in other corners of the planet in the kind of episode which leads to wonder if Captain Jack's off world, Mr Smith has gone dark or Miss Quill is sitting on her hands (or at least what are supposed to be hands in her human form).  Where's bloody UNIT?

So yes, sorry, another week, another shrug.  The teaser for Gattis's piece next week does look exciting and unlike other viewers I've generally enjoyed Mark's previous episodes.  Robots of Sherwood is still my favourite of that year even if Sleep No More was a misstep the next.  The Empress of Mars seems like him trying to get all of his favourite things in one place in case Chibbers decides to hire a whole new set of writers  so I'm actually pretty excited about next week.  I always try to go into each episode with an open mind, and it's true that The Lie of the Land had a few good jokes.  I just wish it was ... I don't know ... you know ... that ... there was more of that ...

The First Ever Episode of TV-AM.

TV Uploaded in 2014 but I've only noticed it after clicking around from seeing Steve's tweet, here is the entire first morning of TV-AM from back in September 1983. You can read more about the channel's chaotic life in Ian Jones's essential book Morning Glory: A History of British Breakfast Television:







Steven Soderbergh has a new distribution model.

Film Not only does Soderbergh have a new film upcoming but a whole new way of releasing it wide without a major studio in the US:
"There’s no one component that hasn’t been done before, but I think it’s a combination of components. There have been advancements in technology that make it a lot easier to get a movie out in 3,000 screens than it was even two years ago. The economic model is pretty simple. You sell the foreign to cover the cost of the [film] negative. We sell the non-theatrical rights to cover the cost of the [prints and advertising], and that’s it. It’s really simple. People have done this before. The distribution part is only a little different because we control it in a way that you normally don’t get to control distribution."
Also sounds like he was a hands on producer for Ocean's Eight, so he's back, back, back.

My Favourite Film of 1897.



Film How often do you feel angry these days? Not just low level sighing, but full on righteous indignation? For various reasons, at a certain point, happiness became something of a luxury in the world, something which happens sometimes when we least expect it, but for much of the time, we’re in a complete state of shock and awe about something.

There’ll probably be a few of you who’ll look at that and see it as a gross generalisation and that may be. For the most part, helped in no small measure by my anxiety tablets, I’ve shifted into a state of blasé disbelief, of watching the news and having realised that I have little or no control over what’s happened, decided to simply let it all wash over me.

There’s plenty to be angry about, you know the reasons, and if you are able to do something directly that’s fine, channel that anger, do something about it. But most of the rest of us can only simply get on with things and hope that everything will be alright in the end. But stay informed in case there is a way we can join the effort.

Which isn’t to say I’m not resisting. Keeping my own council, voicing my own beliefs and being unafraid to have them is a form of resistance. Argue your case with intelligence and logic whenever possible even in the face of evil and ignorance. Because there is a lot of evil and ignorance in the world and evil people. We meet them every day. Walk past them in the street.

Ultimately we’re all in this pillow fight together and even if, like the feathers flying about in this short film (produced by Siegmund Lubin), such things as facts and empathy simply end up floating in the air rather than attaching themselves to their target, we need to keep swinging against the persecution complex of a majority which feels oh so threatened by the smallest, long overdue changes in society.

Which is why, even though for the first time in years I shouldn’t be feeling positive for the future, I still have hope. Even though the world seemed to change so quickly last year, there’s nothing to say it won’t head back on track just as quickly. The universe is not without a sense of humour. Even if I don’t particularly believe in a god, I believe that.

Love Actually is Partially Redeemed.



Film Find above the US version of the Love Actually Sequel as hosted by NBC. Yes, the US version. Spoilers ahead:

(1) New celebrities edited into the closing montage from the US edition of Red Nose Day including Jack Black.

(2) Rowan Atkinson's angel now works for Walgreens, the second largest chemist in the US and owners of Boots UK. Except he's doing exactly the same routine as in the UK version in front of the same child. So the counter set was a green screen with the relevant shop comped in, his lapel badge has been replaced and the young shopper has been dubbed.

(3) New scene. Sarah as played by Laura Linney, one of the biggest omissions from before is back here in a scene tucked in between the end of Atkinson and the start of Liam Neeson. Sarah finally receives a happy ending, if you assume it's a good thing that she's still in what appears to be the same job all these years later but married to Patrick Dempsey. Dempsey actually gets more screen time than she does, and the whole thing is mainly told from his POV, but we do also discover she has at least one child and a pet.

According to Harper's Bizarre this stuff was shot after the UK broadcast, Linney finding a gap in her schedule during a Broadway run.  But for the fact that the two actors clearly aren't talking to one another, the conversation doesn't quite match, it's still a charming little scene and I'd be a horrible person if I wasn't pleased that Sarah finally looks properly happy.  We don't know what's happened to her brother, unless it's his shoes which are the problem but they look rather small if that's what Dempsey's putting in his pocket.  I'll stop now.

The Pyramid at The End of The World.



TV ... this is getting really interesting. Since The Pilot, I've seen reviews indicating this may be the best series since Doctor Who came back (you see that every season but they've been pretty intense this time around) and how from episode to episode it just keeps getting better.  Those of you who've been bothering to read this rubbish will have noticed I've been pretty warm about a few episodes, Thin Ice, Knock Knock and Oxygen particularly, but unimpressed with direction of the show overall.  Straight to social media after tonight's episode (it's the new Gallifrey Base) and the praise for The Pyramid at The End of The World is near universal, with exhalations about how great this new TARDIS team is, how thoughtful the story is and how thrillingly told right through to the cliffhanger ending.

Shrug.  Good for you.  Seriously, I'm pleased.  Because I found it to be a mostly dispiriting, tiresome  forty-five minutes filled with reheated moments of pleasure from previous stories, performances less convincing than Ed Ball's stewardship of Have I Got News For You last night (in which his delivery consisted. Of.  Many.  Pregnant.  Pauses.  Often in.  The Mid.  Le of.  Words), with a few exceptions  another group of under compelling waxworks were the secondary characters should be and a general sense of that'll do in a way which suggests the show is feeling pretty snoozy.  Those sentences may sound harsh, but Doctor Who fails when the viewer is bored and I was so, so bored.  But given your reaction, I wonder.  Am I missing something?  Is this just me?  Am I at that point in this long relationship were everything the show does is annoying and it can't win?

In order to help myself get through this, here are five things which irritated the piss out of me.  There were loads more, but I don't really have a structure for these ramblings and I'm hoping to get to bed at a reasonable hour.  First and perhaps of least importance: why the UN and not the Unified Intelligence Taskforce?  Given the latter had to change their fictional name because the former objected, it's odd seeing their acronym painted everywhere.  UNIT's mentioned within, but the army chaps seemed to be from another agency which for some reason had EU badges on their caps, uncomfortably combined with a gold star affair.  The reasonable explanation is that the production team didn't want overstuff the thing with Kate and Osgood, the actresses weren't available or too expensive for a budget which had already stretched to a foreign trip, but it's a distraction to be wondering who exactly is dealing with alien threats on planet Earth now.

Secondly, those waxworks.  The show used to be good at offering secondary characters with at least some personality or back story even when it wasn't necessarily required even in episodes with largish casts.  Often they'd be become relatable enough in a single scene that their inevitable death would be extremely poignant.  In here, with the absence of Kate or Osgood, no attempt is made to give any of the military figures from the various countries anything other than very basic, placeholder dialogue.  I don't remember the Chinese representative having many lines at all, apart from "Agreed."  The head of the UN is an exposition machine when there's a definitely a version were he has a sneaky interest in extra terrestrials or he's an old friend of the Doctor ala Churchill or worried about being away from his family (assuming he's not having an affair with someone on his staff or some such).

Apart from Bill's date (and a lesbian black couple on prime time BBC One almost forgives the ineptness of the rest of the episode), the exceptions are Erica and Douglas who have the essence of the thing I'm talking about and actually feel like they're being written by someone else (Harness or Moffat?).  About the only sections of the episode which are up to previous standards are these Outbreak-lite cutaways, with their visually interesting intercutting of symbolic flashbacks and implications.  It's great that Joking Apart's Michael, Tony Gardner, finally has a Who credit with both he and Rachel Denning capturing the mundanity of being someone who has an incredibly important but fundamentally tedious job were its easy to allow your concentration to wander.  That said, to suggest Erica as one professional writer has is "a companion who never-was-or-will-be in the grand tradition of Sally Sparrow" is quite some unnecessary hyperbole.  We wish any of these characters were as rich as anyone in Blink.

Thirdly, the monks are another miss.  As a friend suggested to me the other night over dinner, they're another iteration of the Whispermen and the Silents and as we discovered tonight they're all practically utilising the same MO of manipulating history either to control humanity or the Doctor or both.  That's compounded here, as these monastic reiterations have adopted a version of the causality strands last seen at the centre of the Doctor's TARDIS in The Name of the Doctor.  They're also not especially well designed;  even if the notion of dialogue emerging from gaping mouths is supposed to be a reference to the Mondasian Cybermen, it robs them of the potential for much personality.  Outside of the redux of old monsters, I can't remember the last time the show introduced an alien race which offered some personality variations amongst its individuals.

Plus, a protection racket?  Really?  Hand over the planet or we're going to break the causal equivalent of the crockery, or at least allow the display stand to fall over?  Also why are the monks in a pyramid other than Moffat's obsession with pyramids?  There is a Wikipedia category for Egyptian Monks, but nothing to indicate that such figures would have been around at the time these edifices were originally built.  I appreciate there's an element of simply wanting to have some cool things which look cool together ("Dinosaurs on a Spaceship!" "Monks in a Pyramid!") and that if you can have Shaolin Monks in Scotland, why not this, but there seems to be an attempt at some correlation which I find at best culturally suspect and at worst counter to the original educational aims of the series.  Yes, I know, Daleks.  But such things were still important until recently.

Fourthly, although connected, the consent business.  You must willingly give up your planet with a sense of love, a heart as big as the girl in the Roger Sanchez video, or we'll kill you.  Except if it emerges you're giving consent for some other reason, we'll kill you anyway.  In other words, consent given under duress.  Yes, yes, the monks are evil aliens, blah, blah, blah, but just as the same writer's Kill The Moon was an inadvertent addition to the abortion debate, here we are staring something even more complicated in the face.  Again, I don't think that was the intention here, there's an in-exactitude to the elements and no clear lines in either direction but that doesn't stop me from considering the extent to which Bill's dilemma resembles Isabella's in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure from a certain, extremely loose perspective.

Finally fifthly, a more general point, but the episode has an odd lethargy to it, with scenes continuing far longer than you might expect, especially when the Doctor's expostulating and what should be huge action sequences, like the combined attack on the pyramid, never quite making the impression they should as though ambition was overtaken by the possibilities of the SFX budget.  Making the Doomsday Clock the actual ticking clock is a rather novel idea, but because increased threat level only occurs when the monks feel like it, utilising it as a way to put pressure on humanity, the notion of the deadline is fudged which odd when you consider that not knowing the deadline, at what time they'll decide doomsday will descend, should be scarier.  When the clock changed so twenty seconds to midnight, the correlation with the events in the lab are unfocused.

So there are five (ish) reasons why the episode didn't work for me.  Perhaps, as I suggested earlier, my own relationship with the show has matured to the extent that habits which seemed acceptable enough to overlook at the beginning have outstayed their welcome.  Having Douglas not wear his mask so that later he contracts the disease might at one stage have seemed like a shameless and so charming storytelling device.  Now it just seems obvious and makes the character an ideal Darwin Award nominee, nullifying our sympathy for him, the narrative equivalent of leaving the bathroom scales out where someone can easily trip over them.  All of which said, next week's episode does look exciting in a Torchwood mega arc told in forty-five minutes sort of way.  Hopefully it'll be more Children of Earth than Miracle Day.