Time Heist.

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.

Liverpool Biennial 2014: John Moores Painting Prize 2014: The Result.

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:


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

Facebook: www.facebook.com/johnmoorespaintingprize

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.

The Films I've Watched This Year #35

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.

Killer Joe
Stake Land
The Sword and the Rose
Promised Land
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.

He's back and it's about 8:30pm.

TV All in the title and this month's edition of the part newsletter apparently.

Due to scheduling mayhem largely related to the Karaoke Sauron's annoyance at unfair competition (as in a dance programme which is more popular than his music programme) the BBC have thrown Doctor Who the latest into the Saturday night schedule than its ever been with The Caretaker, which I think is episode six, being shown at 8:30 in the evening in the UK.

Only the TV Movie and Torchwood have been broadcast later. Two things:

(1) This is just a scheduling decision. Judging by the BBC's statement on The Guardian's version of the story about Merlin and Atlantic it seems to be.

(2) There's a content issue. There's something within the episode which really is so dark it can't be scheduled to go out earlier for some reason.

(3) Three things sorry. Yes. At 8:30, it's well past the main target audience's bedtime. Which is bold.

The upshot for me is, I'm now in the position I was with Torchwood of having to start writing my reviews even later. This should go well.

Mid-Week Links.

Links Since I know some of you don't use Twitter, you lucky people, I thought it would be a good idea to bring back these old link posts so that you can have access to all the longer pieces I've lazily shared there:

References, Please:
"Almost twenty years ago I wrote a much longer, more elaborate academic book, Translating Style. On that occasion the job of adding the citations took a whole week and was extremely laborious. But I do not recall feeling irritated about the effort at all. It was obviously necessary. There was no way readers could access a literary quotation and check the work I had done if I didn’t provide them with adequate references. They needed to know the edition and the page number because there might be different page numbers in different editions. However with this new book I was acutely aware that one reason I was preparing the references more swiftly than in the past was precisely because rather than going to my shelves to pull out the various books I was using Google. So any reader could do this too, and my careful notes were completely unnecessary."

I want fewer walls and barriers – and to be wonderfully, quirkily British:
"Whenever it was, it has been undeniably difficult and rubbish being a no supporter throughout the referendum debate, even if we prevail on Thursday, which I rather think we will. The yeses, though have clearly had all the fun. As a wishy-washy liberal who holds fast to the two great central political tenets of our time, as expressed by David Mitchell of this paper – "I think you'll find it's a bit more complicated than that" and "it just goes to show you can't be too careful" – I am used to being on the side of … well, hopefully, kindness, doing the right thing and everybody getting along. With a side-order in hand-wringing. I am also a terrible coward on social media. If there's an argument to be had on the internet, I am not in it. (Unless it's about dance-trained stage-school brats taking part in Strictly. Come on!)"

my journey to my referendum decision:
"walk up the street"

A 90-Second Guide to Determine if Your Internet Cause Is BS:
"Hey there, Internet person about to click "post" -- did you know that just because you're extremely passionate about a cause, it doesn't mean it can't be, well, super dumb? After all, even your uncle who thinks Barack Obama is a crab-monster from Alpha Centauri is convinced he's on the side of righteousness. Luckily, we've put together a short questionnaire to help you figure out where your post stands. It shouldn't take much time!"

As If: the teen show that set the tone for youth dramas:
"For a time, As If, the Channel 4 show that followed six friends as they navigated their way through their college years in London, was essential viewing. In the best possible way, it was what you watched when slumped in front of the TV on a Sunday morning when you were too hungover to reach for the remote. But despite running for four seasons (between 2001 and 2004) and getting a US remake, it has been largely forgotten. Last week, Jemima Rooper, who played Nicki in the show, suggested that it might be time for a reunion episode. But how does As If look now, 10 years on?"

Rutherglen writer resurrects sixties Doctor Who foes:
"Andy, who retires from the police this week, said: “It just started from an email from David Richardson, saying, ‘We’ve got a new range coming up, the Early Adventures. I was given a couple of original cast members from the earliest episodes of Doctor Who with Carole Ann Ford and William Russell, and the Voord. I came up with a handful of ideas, one of which involved the TARDIS landing on a ship amidst a massive flotilla, with all these ships travelling across an expanse of ocean, and just took it from there."

Public Art Collections in North West England:
Manchester City Art Gallery.

Art Right then, the penultimate venue. Hello Manchester Art Gallery! Or rather, hello again Manchester Art Gallery because even though I’ve been purposefully ignoring your permanent collection for seven long years since the beginning of this project because I decided early on that you’d be next to last in the list of visits, you’ve not been a stranger. Your temporary displays have often been one of the reasons I’ve travelled over to my second favourite city in the country (sorry Leeds but London is third) and I especially liked the Kylie one. Now if you don’t mind I’m going to change out of this open letter format because I’m not sure it’s worth sustaining over the next however many paragraphs this is going to take.

The visit itself took about four hours, not because it couldn’t have gone on longer, because I now realise there was a whole display section I forgot to go back to, but because as I’ve discovered on the occasions when I’ve visited the larger displays (see also Tullie House in Carlisle), there’s only so much looking a person can do, or at least this person can do. Even with a soup and coffee break between the third and sixth rooms there’s only so much intense scrutiny of paintings and information labels that the eyes and brains can entertain without tiredness setting in at least the way I do it which is to look at every painting and object for a few minutes each before moving on. Lawks knows what I’d do at a national.

Much of this fatigue of course has to do with the quality of the collection. Only now and then, here and there are there signs of, for want of a better description “filler”. Every wall is filled with paintings the visitor could spend whole hours, hours and hours looking at. Now that I do know what’s there, when I do return for the temporary displays, I’ll definitely be walking through the other galleries and stopping at some of these to see them again and look again. Now I wish, back when I was working in Manchester, that I’d spent some of my hour long lunch times sitting in these rooms, though obviously after I’d eaten my sandwiches. Thank goodness that line hasn’t been crossed yet. Visitors taking flash photos in the gallery is bad enough.

In his book, Public Art Collections in North-West England, Edward Morris spends eight and a half long pages describing the history and collections and the history of the collections of Manchester Art Gallery. The summary is pretty much the same as all the collections in the area, a mix of interested artists and industrial philanthropists providing the initial idea and funding, early exhibitions giving way to the forming of a collection which is ultimate displayed in a building, then another building then yet another building with various bequests across the years fattening up the collection into the knock-out it is now. What is different is the time period. The process began earlier than most, in 1823, even before the city had a local council.

As Edward notes, this longevity led to the collection’s reputation developing to such an extent that when bequests came, they were even from outside of the city because Manchester was considered to be the premier collection in the north, a reputation no doubt aided and abetted by The Royal Jubilee Exhibition of 1887. Though he’s also pretty quick to notice that Liverpool has the upper hand in terms of chronological breadth and purchasing power (some of which I’ll only really understand when I read the Walker’s entry). Manchester’s display at least very much focuses on a period which begins at the collection’s inception in the 1800s, only really dipping earlier within their displays of Dutch art which begins in the 1600s.

If all of this is short on detail, it’s because as the history tangled, and for the purposes of this blog post, I’m not sure how interesting you’d find it. Edward’s final paragraph is worth comment. He notes that for all the richness of the collections, their displays aren’t as adequate as they need to be. He’s writing at the turn of the century and notes the gallery’s extension into the Royal Manchester Institution next door in 2001. That’s all completed and has had over a decade to bed in but as has often been the case when I’ve visited these regional galleries it still doesn’t seem like enough. Your Paintings suggests the collection contains 2,132 oils. There must be an exponential number of other objects on top of that.

Manchester’s strategy is to augment its permanent displays, clustered themselves around thematic points, with semi-permanent exhibitions. So amid the 18th century, early 19th century, pre-Raphaelites and Victorian displays, there’s Natural Forces: Romanticism and Nature, A Highland Romance: Victorian Views of Scottishness and Channel Crossings: French and English Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, and it works. It means that more corners of permanent collection are seen, clustered around thematic connections and the gallery also has extra destinations for locals who may feel that they’ve otherwise already seen the display. If you don’t mind me jumping ahead, this is exactly something the Walker in Liverpool should be doing right now.

In the midst of all this, how do I even begin to start choosing highlights as is customary in these non-reviews? Usually it’s been pretty easy, small displays, small collections, mostly local artists but city art galleries can’t be approached in that way. Half of Edward’s pagination makes a good job of it and although I agree with most of his suggestions, especially John William Waterhouse’s Hylas and the Nymphs which I had on my bedroom wall at university. The best idea, probably, is to arbitrarily choose a theme and talking about some of the objects which are about that theme. How about Shakespeare? The collection has at least a couple of renowned paintings related to his works. Yes, that will do.

The first ever purchase for the collection, back in 1826 was Shakespeare related, James Northcote’s portrait of the actor Ira Aldridge playing Othello. Amongst his many portraits, Shakespeare was one of Northcote’s key subjects. He was one of the artists commissioned to produce work for the ill-fated Boydell Shakespeare Gallery in London which was to simultaneously create an exhibition and book illustrating his plays. This Othello was not one of them. Instead, this shows the Moor of Venice in a style that might suggest it was the character that commissioned the portrait, Aldridge not shown in any of the usual cliched “jealous” poses, instead presenting the noble, gentle figure that Desdemona originally fell for.

The other renowned object (which I also have as a postcard on the wall above my desk here) is Arthur Hughes’s Ophelia. Painted when he was just nineteen, it also depicts a very youthful noblewoman with elfin features. The painting and the frame are of equal importance, Gertrude’s description of the scene depicted inscribed into the gold leaf, the edges carved with vines. The overall effect is biblical. The garland of herbs crowning her head, not just indicating a succession which would surely have come with Hamlet Jr as her husband but also a crown of thorns. She’s sitting it seems, but there’s an inevitability to the moment. As she glances down to the water, we're catching the moment when she realises her fate.

William Bromley’s Catherine of Aragon is perhaps the most theatrical but the lengthy description at Your Paintings doesn’t indicate that there’s any particularly famous actors from a production of Henry VIII, a scene from which this illustrates. I love authority with which she addresses the Cardinals even though she’s sitting, her hand up in defiance. Unfortunately within the gallery, the whole thing’s rather ruined by the glaze which covers it and the rather odd circular mark in the top left hand corner where the man is standing holding open the curtain. A similar mark appears on the glass frontage of James Archer’s otherwise remarkable La Mort d’Arthur. Right in the middle, destroying the composition.

When I saw it on the Archer I asked the invigilator what it was. He explained it was the high impact sucker which was used at some point in its transport which has left a stain on the glass, concentric circles about the size of the base of a coffee mug and presumably went unnoticed when the picture was hung. I asked him if there were any plans for them to be repaired. He said that it would be, to boil down what he said less diplomatically, too much hassle. To which I replied that this was rubbish and that there wasn’t much point in displaying the painting in this condition. Or words to that effect. Really, Manchester Art Gallery, this is a terrible way to treat these ancient paintings and no state to leave them hanging.

The rest of the paintings on display illustrate some of the so-called minor works. There’s William Frederick Yeames’s Prince Arthur and Hubert, the latter having been tasked by King John with killing the boy (as per Act IV, Scene 1). The accompanying text says a reviewer at the time “found the painting trivial and anti-heroic” which it really isn’t, as we see in Hubert’s face the turmoil of the choice he has to make and trying to hide that emotion from his potential victim. There’s Winter Fuel by John Everett Millais, an image of survival within a harsh landscape which was accompanied by a line from Sonnet 73 on first display, “Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.”

There may be more Shakespeare related works in the archives, but the Your Paintings search only works if items have been tagged manually and I haven’t the time (at the moment!) to go through the couple of thousand images there. Suffice to say this is just a snip of what’s there though it’s worth checking which galleries are open beforehand.  The contemporary and main temporary spaces were both closed for rehangs. But like I said way up above, I’d probably well and truly seen my fair share by then. Anyway, there we are then, Manchester Art Gallery, tick. Just the Walker Art Gallery to do and it’s the collection with which I’m most familiar. Why am I so nervous? Ends of projects. Ends of projects.

At least I think I was.

Life I was mistaken for a celebrity at lunch time. At least I think I was.

My latest project is to never eat in the same place again as a way of forcing me to eat in some of those cafes, restaurants or bistros which I'm always walking past without entering of which there are plenty in Liverpool.

 I'm also only ever eating the soup at lunchtime. This is as a special sub-project.

At today's cafe, which will remain nameless to save blushes, but feel free to ask me in real life, I stumbled up to the counter and ordered the soup and a glass of water.

The waitress looked at me, and looked at me again and kept looking at me to the point that I wondered what she was looking at.

Not actual me obviously, my self-esteem wouldn't allow for that.

Was it The Adventures of Tin-Tin t-shirt I'd decided wear for the first time since it was bought for me about ten years ago now that it actually fits? That had already received a few glances on the bus into town.

I sat down.

 Then I sat down again when I moved to a table in the window.

 The waitress, as she cleared the table, still looking at me, still grinning, asked if I'd moved.

 I replied that I had, that I wanted a window seat. She nodded and grinned again, but again not in that way that you tend to have to in the service industry as I know.

She brought me the soup but not the water. I went back up to the counter to ask for the water. She said she'd bring it over.

I sat down. I ate some soup. She brought the water. And then she said, "You look just like Massabi."

I'm guessing the spelling. I don't even really know what she said. But I do know I didn't know what to do with what she said.

"Oh. No."

"Do you know Masebi?"

"No. I'm not him. I'm from here." I don't know why that was important information. "I was born in Speke." I wasn't actually born in Speke. I was born in town.

"Well, you look just like him."

I smiled. She returned to work but every now and then I caught her still looking over, not completely convinced.

I finished my soup.  I left.

When I was at school one classmate thought I looked like Rowan Atkinson.  Another Patrick Moore.  At I knew who they were.

What I should have asked was "Who is that?" but I was so entirely thrown by the encounter, she seemed nervous, that it went out of my mind.

I don't know that it was a celebrity.  It could have just been a friend of a friend.  But there was just something about the encounter.  A niggle.  A feeling.

I've googled.  Without a spelling I can't find anyone resembling me.  There's a lot of people and things in the world with a name similar to that.  Any ideas?  Do I have a celebrity doppelganger?


“Zagreus sits inside your head, Zagreus lives among the dead, Zagreus sees you in your bed and eats you when you're sleeping ...”

TV Nursery rhymes have always had a queer effect on the Doctor. Usually it's when he’s up against it with The Celestial Toymaker but in the Big Finish fortieth anniversary audio, Zagreus, it led three and a half hours of Disney crossed with Hammer crossed with Asimov leading to Eighth absorbing more anti-time than his constitution should have really and marooning himself in something called the Divergent universe for a few years until the revival of the television series prompted his return or something like that anyway. The point is that if you want to see Doctor Who when it’s at its most experimental, there’ll usually be a sinister nursery rhyme in there somewhere.

I’ve never had the under the bed dream. I did once think I saw a ghost at the end of the bed, that looked like my Dad, in pain, which isn’t really the kind of hallucination you want to have when you’re six years old. Under the bed to me is the place where I keep all my cds, Doctor Who fan videos and episode 3 of The Underwater Menace on VHS. It’s where I look as the place of last resort when I’ve searched everywhere for a television remote control, keys or my right shoe and where I invariably find all of these items along with various other burton coggles, plimlico, ballycumber and recently replaced nottage. I’m a bit of a worksop, truth be told.

But I can understand fear of the unknown. I spent a whole year at university worrying about utility bills which failed to arrive at our shared student accommodation. After a while we’d assumed we’d in fact moved into one of those places where the landlord picked up the tab, but were still in the situation in which we didn’t want to ask him in case he actually wasn’t or indeed contact the utility companies to find out if that was the situation either lest they backdated the whole lot. So I spent most of that year white with fear that something terrible might happen in relation to money. I attribute my current, unceasing tiredness to those sleepless nights. But I digress…

Since I’ve been neglecting it in previous weeks, I should probably say up front that I’m a Yes voter on the quality of the episode. Every now and then, Doctor Who becomes magical, surprises you and throws you so completely for the loop to the point that even if you’ve seen or heard every television story and read those old articles about structure in last decade’s Doctor Who Magazine and think you know how one of its stories will go, you have absolutely no idea where it’s going to go. For all the, well yes, obvious structural similarities to some of writer Steven Moffat’s previous escapades, I had absolutely no idea what he was going to do with them next.

Which of course as you’ve probably already calculated creates a complication for me because I haven’t the first clue how to write about the thing. Back in the Behind The Sofa days for me and when Steven Moffat just wrote episodes for someone else I always had the perennial problem of them being of such high quality I didn’t know how to review them which led to such masterpieces as this and this. Since he became showrunner I’ve largely managed to put all that to one side, mostly because he’s been stuck writing the arc stories. Now here he is back in stand-alone mode and here I am with no idea how to proceed. Apologies for the following nonsense.

Let’s get the apparent “problem” out of the way first then. Complaining about recycling in Doctor Who, even from the same writer, is a bit like losing your temper over the council turning up to collect the blue or green plastic box outside your house every fortnight. Pretty much every script Terry Nation wrote for the programme and even the ones he didn’t, tell roughly the same Dalek story to the point that it’s always a disappointment now when at least one character in every episode isn’t called Tarrant. Doctor Who in total only has about three genres and they’re all about alien invasions and time travel. It’s what it does.

So yes, Listen has a similar structure as The Time of the Doctor with Clara’s adventures with the Time Lord happening in and out of a significant life event, in this case her first date rather than Christmas lunch. Yes, it’s also about her visiting significant people across their timeline, in this case various shades of Pinky and the Brain and making an important contribution to their lives. Yes, at one point it seems to be offering us a variation on not blinking and turning our back by advising the opposite. Yes, there’s the element of a companion not telling the Doctor something important which will presumably become important later.

Except I think Moffat knows this. He’s a good enough writer to know when he’s recycling and mores to the point that we’ll know he’s recycling too. He knows we watched The Time of the Doctor, not least because he referenced what seemed originally like an insignificant detail in Deep Breath. He also knows we’ve seen The Name of the Doctor and The Day of the Doctor which are also referenced. As well as the titles, what those three episodes all share is that they’re significant moments for Clara and specifically Clara helping the Doctor to overcome his fears. He’s servicing the franchise as an entity by crystallising one of its and his earlier thought processes.

If the episode is about how fear drives the Doctor, when Clara drives the TARDIS she’s taking him to a pair of what would otherwise be considered “short trips”, mini-adventures which would otherwise be just the thing to appear in a Virgin Decalog. Or Dualogue if you like. In other words, he’s gleefully reversing the rules of Blink here for the benefit of a passing alien who has no less importance in the grand scheme of things than the Sinister Sponge. When he finds the chrononaut in the far future that’s all it really is. It’s to illustrate that it’s the Doctor’s fear that connects them together, just as it’s the Doctor’s fear that helps him to fight.

True both adventures are also tied together by the other significant character whose now nudging towards the same plot point status which some people think marred Clara’s first year, but that might explain why he had all of that narrative agency in episode two of the kind which they hoped would carry over from Souffle Girl and Christmas Clara but didn’t due to them being completely different characters. Now that they’ve realised their mistake, possibly also after having watched the first five episodes of Dollhouse, they’re trying to do it differently this time. Notice how much agency Pink even has here with all his Ross-like table interaction.

Why hasn’t Clara been up front about the identities of the watchful Rupert, (Mork calling) Orson and Danny Pink? Now that is something which will become significant later, when the Doctor does finally meet the ex-soldier leading to much “just another stupid ape” conversation, assuming like Amy’s Schrodingers he hasn’t already figured it out. As ex-soldiers will they instead find kinship or is there something else underlying his recently more emphatic dislike of the army? Real world interviews are providing breadcrumbs, though as we’ve discovered over the years, lying isn’t just the Doctor’s rule. Quite right too.

The problem is, there is no second, I don’t know what else you want me to say. Listen is not actually like any other Doctor Who story we’ve ever seen. Ever. Bits of it are or as we’ve already discussed, maybe, but seriously, given all of that, is there another Doctor Who story which is anything like this? No, no there isn’t. Isn’t that good? Isn’t it good that even if you think the opposite to me, that you didn’t think that it worked, that at least it didn’t work brilliantly? That it wasn’t at least like anything else you’ve seen lately even on television? This year? In the sci-fi genre? In a world where hairy old, stolidly disappointing Extant exists?

Douglas McKinnon’s direction is superb. Noticing the new style of scenes filled with dialogue he fought against the natural tendency towards loads of unnecessary camera and character movement and instead was happy to simply film the performances in that way which judging by the first three episodes is the new post-nuWho style. Once again, just as in Deep Breath we have the Doctor and Clara simply talking, the camera resting to take in the scene (albeit sometimes with a slight camera shake to create some kineticism). There’s an intimacy too, close-ups that capture the emotion of a point and not just when scares are the objective.

The performances are superb. Peter is now fully relaxed into the role, seems to know how to play it which is as we’d hoped essentially nerdy Malcolm Tucker with a moral compass but without the swears. He might say in interviews that he isn’t and in the first couple he’s clearly fighting against it, but just as Tennant eventually realised his best strategy was Casanova in the TARDIS, so here he is being entirely unapproachable until he realises he has to be and when he’s not doing that he’s remembering his own childhood and giving us some good Tom (especially when the script calls upon him to do exactly that).

Once again Jenna’s a revelation. Her scene with Rupert, just as I think it’s meant to, is resonant of Matt and his various encounters with kids, especially in A Christmas Carol and Night Terrors. Clara’s been a nanny of course in various lives, so she’s supposed to be able to talk to children (see also The Rings of Arkadian) but she brought an extra level of poetic reassurance which is very much like Eleventh. During the week I had a slightly bonkers five minutes when I wondered if the twist would be that she is somehow the Doctor in waiting ala the Watcher and would play the Time Lord next year until I realised it was slightly bonkers.

To slightly bust open one of the episode’s jaw dropping moments, how did the TARDIS land in Gallifrey’s past? Isn’t the Time War locked, including the Time Lord home planet’s history as per Engines of War? Will the TARDIS’s sudden newfound ability to visit the planet’s past become important again later? Is Gallifrey the Promised Land? Or is this, like The Doctor’s Wife simply a stand-alone event, in this case Moffat trying to prove to himself that he can still write stand alones, that not everything has to be about story arcs? Clearly not in relation to Danny Pink, but still it would be nice if this was never explained.

All of which rambling is essentially me filling in words and paragraphs so this actually looks like I made an effort. A couple of thousand words should be enough I think for tonight. At various points during the last three series of Sherlock, I’ve asked myself and others, why Doctor Who isn’t that interesting sometimes, willing to take risk with itself and its characters. Now here we are with an episode which did just that and slap bang in the middle of Saturday night between Tumble and The National Lottery. I wonder if those of us born a decade too late finally understand now what it must have been like to see An Unearthly Child in 1963?

The Films I've Watched This Year #34

TV Here's a paragraph about Matthew Collings's The Rules of Abstraction on BBC4. In The Rules of Abstraction, Matthew Collings, who is himself an abstract painter talks about the history of abstract painting over the past hundred years in ninety-minutes.  As Matthew Collings himself points out, to talk about abstract painting as a single thing is a ludicrous idea, but he attempts it anyway.  He is very good at introducing artists just outside of the mainstream and explaining the use of colour and how it creates harmony and chaos across the canvas.  But there is the problem of not really being able to explain abstract art in its purest sense, other than to suggest that the more work that's put into a painting the more profound it probably is.

A Year In Burgundy
Gangster Squad
The Purge
A New Kind of Love
I Really Hate My Job

Darling Lili
And Now ... Ladies and Gentlemen...

I Really Hate My Job is a London entry into the service worker genre (see also Clerks, Late Night Shopping and Empire Records) which has Anna Maxwell Martin managing a rat infested Soho bistro with waitresses and kitchen staff played by the eclectic cast of Neve Campbell, Shirley Henderson, Alexandra Maria Lara and Dana Pellea, battling against their shared neuroses across a single evening. Shot almost entirely on one set, it mostly feels like filmed theatre but with a sharp script, funny performances and sub-Withnail sense of human wreckage dealing with failed potential, it’s never boring. Cleverly director Oliver Parker always keeps the customers out of focus or out of shot putting the viewer right within the point of view of his cast.

Not having much of an idea of its origin, throughout I had a general sense of unease throughout of this being a period piece. For one thing, everyone's smoking inside.  It’s a measure of just how ingrained the illegality of that is now that I flinched the first time Shirley Henderson’s character lit up. Kate Nash’s first album’s on the soundtrack, plus everyone looks younger. Glancing at the supplied inlay (I received this as a preview) I realised it was shot way back in 2007, but it’s just  now creeping out direct to dvd, having only previous been seen in this parish (according to the imdb) at the Inverness Film Festival. It even reached the US sooner with a shiny-disc release in 2008 and originally saw light of day at the Transilvania International Film Festival in 2007.

There are plenty of stories about British films which fall through the cracks.  This seems to be one of them. Although it’s far from a commercial film, given the cast and the director it certainly would have had a decent release at least fifteen years ago (see the three films bracketed above) but we now seem to be in a situation, so unlike France actually, in which even this kind of material can’t get a decent release or at least couldn’t back in 2007/8 when if the Wikipedia lists are anything to go by there were already about five or six tent pole UK releases and a bunch of also rans (Lady Godiva: Back in the Saddle?). Let’s hope it’s some reason other than politics, this being a film written by a women, featuring a cast made up entirely of actresses. It can’t be this which has led to it being forgotten can it?

Most of my #francewatch "choices" were or are utterly bonkers.  Claude Lelouch's  And Now ... Ladies and Gentleman ... has Jeremy Irons as an amnesiac, disguise wearing jewel thief blacks out whilst on a round the world boat trip and ends up in Morocco where he meets Jazz singer Patricia Kaas who spends most the duration singing songs from her Piano Bar album, including Piano Bar.  Blake Edwards's Darling Lili has Julie Andrews as a German spy during World War I romancing Rock Hudson's fighter pilot and feeding his intel back to the Keiser (oh and it's a musical because of course it is).  Melville Shavelson's A New Kind of Love features Joanne Woodward as a fashion designer who after Paul Newman's sports columnist mistakes her for a man decides to gussy herself up and pretend to be a prostitute for some reason to win him over.  It's rubbish.

Actually on reflection, make that all, because you have to imagine that only in France would Populaire, a 50s retro romantic comedy about the international typewriting championship would be greenlit and have Romain Durais and Déborah François (who was the pupil in The Page Turner).  It's actually pretty magical in a similar way to Peyton Reed's underrated Doris Day film pastiche Down By Love even if now and then it slips over into unnecessary Todd Hayne's Far From Heaven in terms of deliberate tonal changes.  A Year In Burgundy is a ninety-minute documentary about wine production that's what you'd expect though none of the wineries features were prepared to give up their secrets about how the stuff is actually turned from grapes into the plonk.  Each of them have their own secret method and theft and piracy  is rife in the industry.

Neither of the US films I watched this week is any good.  The Purge takes a potentially decent dystopian idea, that that to keep crime down once a year for twelve hours there's a killing spree then uses it as a pretence for a relatively standard home invasion story that ultimately amounts to Home Alone with guns.  Excellent performances from Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey keep the morally ambiguous parents largely sympathetic, the general sense of low budget make-do is disappointing.  Gangster Squad is The Untouchables for teenagers crippled by insufficient Emma Stone who's stuck in the role of the traditional moll.  It's disappointing that four years on from Zombieland, director Ruben Fleischer (and her!) have turned out such generic tosh.  It's not unenjoyable and it's good to see Josh Brolin in a lead, but throughout you just keep wondering why the characters don't go after the accounts.  They should always go after the accounts.

You can take your "bookbook" and ...

Technology That's all very well and good Ikea (which I seem to have been mispronouncing all these years) but it's a pain in the rectum for tech support:

What I have done for me lately.

Life  Just for a change...

(1)  I've just totted up the number of films I've watched so far this year and it's currently standing at two hundred and fifty-two (252).  I don't know if this is average although I know it's above average for someone for whom it isn't their job.  It averages out at one film per day and would be higher if it wasn't for the weeks when I was reading instead or travelling out to the Lake District to look at some paintings for five minutes.

(2)  This afternoon I travelled out to the Lady Lever Art Gallery to look at some drawings for about half an hour as I finally reached their Rossetti's Obsession : Images of Jane Morris exhibition.  Rossetti's never, whispering, really been my favourite of the pre-Raphaelites, his figures always having a slightly vacant look and that's certainly true of some of these drawings of Morris.  The real benefit of the exhibition is being able to compare his draftspersonship with photographs of his model and the way it simply and sympathetically charts their relationship across the years, saying as much as it needs to across the three rooms about their connection and William Morris.   If anything it feels too small.  A much larger exhibition in a greater space would have room for his paintings (assuming they could be loaned) and a greater sense of chronology with the works put in the order of the date of their creation rather than, as here, how they work best aesthetically.  Nevertheless I was very pleased to have visited before it closed (I really have to stop leaving these things too late) and it has added an extra complexion of understanding for me about his work and his muse.

(3)  Yesterday I wrote about visiting Tatton Park

(4)  On Tuesday I visited Tatton Park

(5)  Monday I wrote about visiting Tullie House.

(6) The Tour of Britain began on Sunday with eight laps passing in front of my house:

After having watched the start of the race and first lap on television I rushed down and stood on the side of the road for the next pass. As I expected this amounted to the roar of police motorcycles, then the first lot of support cars, then the four leading cyclists, then a gap, then the peloton then what seemed like a hundred more support cars with television cameras in between, then nothing.  I clapped all the way through and wore a bright green Kelly Services t-shirt which hasn't fit me for twenty-years (originally given to me when I worked at Headingley cricket ground clearing rubbish from the terraces in the mid-90s) so I could spot myself on the television playback as all of this whooshed past.  But in general it was about as I'd thought, which is that watching a road race from the side of the road is a rubbish way to watch a road race.

(7)  On Saturday afternoon, Matthew Sweet quoted me in his Sound of Cinema programme about Memory on Radio 3 from the tweets I sent him about John Brion's score for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  You can listen again here or download the podcast.  He mentions me about about five minutes before the end.

(8)  Saturday night was Doctor Who night and we're all caught up.

Public Art Collections in North West England:
Tatton Park.

Art Turning out of Knutsford railway station onto the main road yesterday, the last thing I needed to see was one of those brown tourist signs pointing in the opposite direction with the information, “Tatton Park, 4 miles”. Having been here almost this time last year for Tabley House and knowing how long that walk had taken it, hadn’t occurred to me, largely because I’d not bothered to look at the maps (spoilers) that I’d also have to walk some to get to the mansion in the park but there it was. Four miles. Which might not seem very far to the seasoned rambler, but as I discovered the other week in the Lakes, I’m very far from being a seasoned rambler. Not one bit.

Actually, I’m being slightly over dramatic. Amid the scenery, the blue skies and well cared for road, the walk through Tatton Park wasn’t that awful. Cyclists and pedestrians travelling in the opposite direction all greeted me and I greeted them when they didn’t. I even think that I saw Laura Trott passing by on wheels though it could have been my mind filling in the blanks when I caught half of a face in the corner of my eye. Unlike the Lakes, the mammals aren’t fenced but roam freely so I was amid the sheep and deer rather than with them just too far away. I wonder how often they’re actually bothered by tourists or if they’re hopefully just left to be.

Tatton Hall has had a messy history in architectural terms. The estate was acquired by the Egerton family in 1598 and although they lived in the Old Hall which is still on site for the next hundred years, by 1716 they’d moved into the new building which as the official catalogue describes was originally a “three-storied rectangular block of seven bays”, but later augmented into a neo-classical building with sections designed by Samuel Wyatt in 1780 and Lewis William Wyatt in 1813. The Egerton family stayed there, right through to the final owner Maurice Egerton who left it to the National Trust.

In his book, Public Art Collections in North West England, Edward Morris devotes his four text pages to describing who amongst the Egertons were the art collectors. In 1729, Samuel Egerton was an apprentice clerk for the picture collector Joseph Hill and it’s through this connection he acquired the two Canalettos. But the most important collector was apparently Wilbraham Egerton, Samuel’s great nephew whose interest in Dutch painting led to the purchasing of the Van Dyck, Stoning of St Stephen but it’s clear that everyone in the family across the years had a hand in.

All of which said, as art collections go, it’s a bit disappointing. You’d think after all this time, finding two Canalettos and a Van Dyck in the north west under these circumstances would be exciting for me, but they’re disappointing Canalettos, early schematic views of Venice which are interesting from a historical perspective in capturing the city but otherwise flat and uninvolving. The Van Dyck is difficult to appreciate in this setting due to the way the light from the windows hits it so its impossible to see the whole work without some reflections on the canvas.

But throughout I had to keep in mind that this is the National Trust (and Cheshire City Council who provide their funding) presenting the house and grounds as a glimpse into the past and the history of the Egertons, not an art gallery. These walls filled with portraits are the ancient equivalent of an iCloud so shouldn’t really be judged on their artistic merits, even though now and then there also happen to be some fabulous paintings. Similarly, the many “schools of” and “manner of” paintings are the Egertons bringing into the old Masters the only way they could.

Currently in the process of restoration, a process being carried out in public, is The Cheshire Hunt with Wilbraham Egerton of Tatton (1781–1856), and His Son William Tatton Egerton (1806–1883), 1st Baron Egerton of Tatton by Henry Calvert (its space on the wall in the entrance hall currently filled with a pretty convincing from a distance digital reproduction). I’m mentioning it because it seems important to mention it, but it’s really off the edge of my subset of interests, my brain not quite able to divorce its capability as a painting with what it depicts.

Much more in that subset is the oddball anonymous portrait of Elizabeth I, which is frankly easier to link to than describe. My first reaction was quite a dirty laugh, which echoed throughout the hall in which its hung. How did that happen and judging by the dating, during the Queen’s reign? My experience has been that contemporary portraits tended to offer something akin to fantasy in relation to Gloriana especially in her later years, yet here she is unflatteringly in full HD, the skin hanging from her skull. Did the artist survive this? Was this unusual?

Alice Anne Graham-Montgomery (1847–1931), Duchess of Buckingham and Chandos and Countess Egerton of Tatton by Frank Dicksee is currently difficult to see because it’s in the middle of a wall in a dining room which is cordoned off at the very end to create atmosphere, but even from there her golden gown shimmers and the sheer ostentatiousness of the setting with its fir lined chair which I’m sure for years people assumed was how these people lived in these big houses but on reflection must have been an affectation of the artist’s studio.

Across the project Frank Dicksee is a name I’ve seen in a number of the collections and as I remarked to the attendant, because I do that sort of thing, that painting would have had pride of place in one of the regional museums, noting how the women’s portraits by known painters mostly seemed to be in less prominent, inaccessible positions whereas the more unremarkable portraits of men by relatively unknown artists are in full view. She replied that status overshadows artistic merit in these circumstances (which is a reflection I suppose, of our historically patriarchal society).

Which is presumably why one of the collection’s other great portraits Lady Gertrude Lucia Egerton (1861–1943), Countess of Albemarle by the Italian painter Michele Gordigiani is in the middle of a stairwell just before the visitor enters the cellar. There’s a bright, airiness to the image and a sense of freedom, of someone having been caught in a private moment by a photographer who isn’t a total stranger. Gordigiani’s is the image of Elizabeth Barrett Browning which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery and I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for her work in the future.

But opposite there is my favourite picture in the collection, Hilda Montalba’s Onion Seller, partly because it’s like nothing else in the painting collection. After walls of dull portraits and mediocre Dutch copies, this awoke me from my mid-afternoon torpor with all kinds of questions about why it was acquired, about the artist, about why it was on show, like the Gordigiani, so close to the exit and in a place where it would be easy to overlook as the visitor is leaving. Which of the Egerton’s bought it and where did it originally hang?

Neither the guide book or Edward have any answers. The usual source says that the artist was one of four daughters of the Swedish-born artist Anthony Rubens Montalba and Emeline (née Davies) and that she and her siblings were regular contributors to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition during the 1870s. Perhaps the painting was exhibited there and impressed one of the Egertons enough for a purchase. What impresses me is how it seems to merge the discipline of the still life in the onions with the more formal elements of the portrait with certain aspects of reportage.

The attendants on the whole were pleasingly honest.  The person in the dining room noted that you could see which paintings had been out on loan and by inference are the most important) because they'd been cleaned and restored and it's worth noting that most of the paintings I've mentioned certainly have signs of that.  They are often also asked why some of them are in such murky order (loads of the paintings are dirty with very yellow varnish) and it's usually because the cost of restoration would cost more than the painting is worth.

If all of this has sounded disappointingly cynical it may be because I’ve reached that point of mission creep so many of these projects have had. I look back at my visit to Dunham Massey and it’s certainly true that in comparison on this occasion I wasn’t able to quite simultaneously concentrate on the art and the house, so really didn’t get a sense of the building’s history as I walked through the rooms my eyes darting around looking at the paintings. My reaction on seeing a room without tended to be to move on.

Plus in concentrating on the kinds of works within the field of interest of Edward’s book, I certainly didn’t spend enough time looking at the large collection of lithographs in the servants work spaces or the display dedicated to final house owner Maurice Egerton’s ethnographic collection. An old school adventurer, as well as being a pioneer aviator, automobilist and radio enthusiast, he fought in both wars and travelled the world. There’s a page here featuring commentary from people who work at house and studied his life about his reputation.

As I began the long walk back I decided to try and thumb a lift, something I haven't done in years and as I sheepishly put out limb as a car passed it stopped and was given a pleasant ride back to gate by someone I gathered was a staff member.  He'd noticed how long I'd been there, though I didn't ask if that was unusual, though given the speed with which I'd seen other visitors walking around I suspect that it might.  So it wasn't as much of a long walk as it could be and I was back in Knutsford quicker than I expected but not quick enough to properly look around what looks like a very nice place.

Perhaps I’ll visit again. Perhaps I will. But with a historians eye, to look at the house and grounds as a glimpse into the past and the history of the Egertons, not an art gallery, not itching to pull out my moleskin book every five minutes and make notes in preparation for this ensuing blog post, review thing. Just two venues left, Manchester and the Walker, both art galleries and I’ve no idea how I’m going to react to those with all of their paintings. It took me three hours to get around Tatton Hall and I know that I didn’t see everything.

"I have been fielding a lot of questions like this lately"

Film The Art of the Title has a useful interview with Erin Sarofsky, who created the post-credits sequence for Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Amongst the artistry she's asked:
"There’s been a lot of discussion lately about Marvel’s lack of representation of female heroes. If you could design a title sequence for a film about a female Marvel superhero, who would that be?

As a woman in a male-dominated industry, I have been fielding a lot of questions like this lately.

For now, I am hoping that Black Widow gets her own movie. I think it would be an interesting film, because she’s such a complex character. Exploring that angle in a main title would be really fascinating.
Well, exactly.

Public Art Collections in North West England:
Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery.

Art Hello Carlisle. Finally. Of all the destinations in Edward Morris’s book Public Art Galleries in North West England, Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery has always felt like the most remote even though oddly it’s only a couple of hours journey from Liverpool by train. That swiftness was explained when changing from my usual train at Preston onto a tilting Virgin Pendolino on its way to Glasgow, Carlisle being the penultimate stop. Apart from completely misunderstanding how the reservation system works (to the dismay of the passenger who’d booked my original seat) the journey was uneventful. I spent most of it looking out the window at more incandescently beautiful countryside pierced by what I’m sure was the Ribblehead Viaduct (glances ominously at his copy of Bradshaw’s).

Edward really likes Tullie House, devoting four and a half text pages to its collection and I can see why because it’s utterly marvellous. Having spent the best part of a few years within this project visiting houses and tiny museums with very focused collections, there’s something quite disorientating to pitch up at a municipal in which almost every object on display demands the attention, where there’s very little, for want of a better description, “filler”. Much of this has to do with its size. Although the main museum is in a huge, recently refurbished space, the art collection is presented in its original venue at the back, in actuality Tullie House is relatively tiny, smaller even than Sudley. It’s the kind of place so tight for space it has to display its Stanley Spencers in the stairwell.

The road to the museum is a familiar story. After a number of local art exhibitions across the 19th century, the local council eventually bought Tullie House, originally built in 1689 and in 1890 opened it as the local museum and art gallery, with an extension added through public subscriptions for the local library and a school. Both of those have since moved out and the museum filled that space and a further extension completed in 1990. But the collection didn’t really begin to flourish until the 1930s when Mrs Maud Scott-Nicholson, the daughter of Sir Benjamin Scott, whose fortune through his company Hudson Scott & Sons Ltd, was made as a box and packaging manufacturing, proposed the introduction of a proper purchasing scheme (always a philanthropist).

In turn Sir William Rothenstein, the principal of the Royal College of Art was appointed, with a budget of £100-£200 a year, to amass a collection at his discretion from as Edward describes “work by young and little known artists” which he did until 1942. The scheme continued through various successors until 1975 when it was abolished presumably in favour of a more traditional municipal purchasing policy. The collection was also boosted when Rothenstein’s friend, poet and dramatist Gordon Bottomley bequeathed his collection to Carlisle in 1948 and it’s fair to say, judging by Edward’s description that a large proportion of the display are from these additions. But there are also still plenty of recent purchases and gifts, creations from right up until the present day.

A quick user guide. If you do visit the museum and you’re alone, bring music and headphones. From what I can gather the venue also houses some of the office space for the staff of the museum and has a downstairs meeting room and at the time I visited people were walking through all of the time which was just about ok when I was in the gallery space but made the experience of looking at the art in the stairwells abysmal. My usual choice of Preisner’s music helped to drown out much of the noise of people clomping about but all of the business of moving refreshments in and out of that meeting room and people marching around the building was, I’m afraid, horrendously distracting and particularly problematic given that the gallery has an admission charge (albeit one covering the year).

Of course the counter argument is that there were visitors too, and in London galleries you can barely see anything for the crowds. But there’s a big difference between visitors shuffling about looking at art and staff members who already know the space marching through and us having to get out of the way for them (which happened on a couple of occasions). Note this isn’t about the on hand attendants who were really helpful and offered some useful points about how to navigate the space and where to look in the main museum for other sections of their permanent art collection. Plus it’s not really the staff’s fault. They’re just going out to lunch. It’s the original policy of putting their offices in the top and meeting room at the bottom of this building, small enough to swing a small mammal.

Nevertheless, I did see some extraordinary art which is presumably all that matters. My notebook contains thirteen pages of notes, titles of works and notes and I scarcely know where to begin. Half of the wall space is dedicated to Bottomley’s pre-Raphaelite collection, mostly watercolours and drawings but some oils. There’s a woman’s head by Rossetti, startling for its similarity to modern comic art and cartooning in a way I don’t remember seeing from him. For the Shakespeare collection is his The Death of Lady Macbeth, a nihilistic scene showing Lady M wringing her hands as exhausted servants stand nearby unable to cope much more. Through a window her husband leads his army into battle with the artist able give as much detail in pencil to them as is usual in his paintings.

Around a partician from there, with a dozen other pieces I could mention in between is Burne-Jones’s Voyage to Vinland the Good, a sketched design for a windows of a private house in Newport, Rhode Island which the internet tells me was built by hardware and tobacco heiress Catherine Lorillard Wolfe on Ochre Point Avenue but sold in 1937 to the Cohen Brothers of Baltimore. As you can see, the curve of the ship is submerged in the cure of the sails almost to the point of abstraction and in the pencil version without the pigmentation, it’s not quite clear in places where the sky, sea and ship begin and end, exactly what it was like to navigate the globe in those old boats. Also remarkable is how the artist manages to communicate the fear of the figures within so little space for expression.

Leading up from this room is a stairwell filled with portraits, self and otherwise from various eras including this curious self portrait by Peggy Fitzgerald which Your Paintings says is the only oil work by her in public ownership. The shaping reminds me lot of Magritte, especially the way she’s holding that branch. Whatever could it mean? On the window ledge halfway up the stairs is a marble sculpture by Musgrave Lewthwaite Watson, of Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo (though not Donatello). Mike holds a piece of machinery, Rapha a miniature Venus and Leo and book and the way they’re arranged makes them look like they could be three incarnations of Doctor Who (if you’re Peter Capaldi, the Doctor to the rest of us). It’s hollow, I think, accounting for the marble’s translucent quality, glistening in the sunlight.

Upstairs and into the long room and arguably the business end of the collection. It’s here the pre-Raphaelite oils are kept, including one of their star pieces, The Rift within the Lute by Arthur Hughes, the quintessential example of the form with its beautiful woman wearing a richly-coloured dress and cloak, lute and Tennyson connection, loosely based on Alfred’s The Idylls of the King. Next door is his Madeleine, originally titled The Casket in which his wife provided the model for a young in an intimate moment looking at jewellery. Both of these paintings, for all their late Victorian trappings have that magic and sense of fantastical otherworldliness which I know repels some but I adore. There’s a melancholia in both. a sense of the story hidden behind the story.

Which is also true of my absolutely favourite painting on display, The Farewell by Frederick Cayley Robinson. A young woman in straw hat is shown embraced by a taller figure whilst leaving a simple white house, what me must assume is her luggage being carried away by an adult couple, a man and a woman and we might think this was in biblical times were it not for this being a chest and the clock tower in the background. The information nearby offered little clue to context. We don’t know the story. Who is she? Who are they? Why are they pointing to the sky? Where is this? The same building reappears in his Reminiscence which is at Lemmington Spa Art Gallery. Are they parts of the same story? It’s the not knowing that makes this so alluring. I stood looking for well over ten minutes.

Which is something I did a lot walking around, wanting to take everything in, much too much to really talk about here though I will just quickly mention the two massive paintings by Robert Forrester, commissioned it seems for illustrative purposes for the museum, two massive works Borrowdale in the Ice Age, about 20,000 Years Ago and Castlerigg Stone Circle, Keswick, about 1500 BC, painted in the mid-sixties when the fashion for landscapes had well moved on but seem to have been upheld in these epic images. This is widescreen, technicolour painting that recalls the pre-Raphaelites but depict historical reality rather than myths and fantasy. Having recently spent some time in the wilderness (somewhat) this is exactly how I’d imagine it would be in winter, though I fear it may not be now.

The whole business took about two and half hours and with a train to catch within a few more not enough to actually see the rest of the museum properly, or Carlisle Castle just across the road. Instead I decided to visit the Cathedral, which judging by its website has esteem issues: “It may not be the best known medieval Cathedral in England, it is certainly not the biggest, but it delights its many visitors.” Which it did having amongst its many fixtures, the Brougham Triptych, a rapturously beautiful carving originating from Antwerp in 1520 and has ended up in Carlisle via St Wilfred’s Chapel, Brougham where it was brought for decoration in the 1840’s by Baron Brougham and Vaux. It’s impossible to put into words and these images barely capture its beauty. Not the first time I’ve said that about something lately.

All of which now means there’s just three venues left to cover in the project and since I’m forty at the end of next month I’ve decided I’m going to try and complete this project by then. Back to Knutsford tomorrow for Tatton Park all being well and then Manchester Art Gallery followed by the Walker in the coming weeks. After that, perhaps some revisits. Blackpool was closed when I visited and Stalybridge didn’t have its permanent collection on display. You may remember I saw Oldham’s collection while it was in storage and I’ve just had Abbot’s Hall recommended to me and its six years since I’ve been to Kendal. But we’ll see. Like I said, Bradshaw’s is glaring at me from the shelf and now that I’ve been to Carlisle Cathedral, there’s handy list of the others on the Wikipedia. It’d be a reason to visit Guilford, finally.

Free T-Shirts. Contributions Welcome.

Fashion Recently, I lost a lot of weight, so much so that most of my clothes, especially my t-shirts are now way too big for me.

The easy answer is to buy more t-shirts which I have.

 But having also spent the past thrumpty years stuck wearing items without logos (because they looked silly), I've decided to start wearing t-shirts with logos.

Again, I could buy some which I have.

But I also thought it might make for a [insert adjective here] blogging or art type project to see how many free promotional t-shirts I can collect from companies or organisations.

If you are a company or organisation reading this and think you might like to send me something, email me at stuartianburns@gmail.com.

But usually, I'm going to send a tweet or email with a link to this blog post just see what happens.

 Hello if that's why you're reading this now.

If this is something you're interested in do please let me know how best to contact you.

Since I know nothing is free here's what will happen if you send me a "free" t-shirt.

(1) I'll post a photo of it in a subsequent post about the free t-shirts.
(2) I'll include a link to your website or whatever you request.
(3) I'll wear the t-shirt. The whole point of this is to get some free clothes.
(4) I reserve the right to refuse or ignore if its not something I agree with or interested in.

As you'll notice I'm doing this without any secret agenda and with all the cheek I can muster.

I forgot to mention a size. XL or XXL, whichever's best for you. As I've discovered, some XLs are nothing of the sort.


The Films I've Watched This Year #33

Film Anyone else feel a certain geographical dissonance watching the Paris episode of Dr James Fox's A Tale of Three Cities (or The One Show for adults)? If you'd visited the Mondrian show at Tate Liverpool you certainly would as Dr Fox is one minute on the streets of France's capital and the next walking through gallery four and into the replica of the artist's studio which is currently there until the 6th October.  The visit was unheralded - no onscreen caption or anything - and so some viewers may have suspected that this recreation was in Paris itself.  The Mondrian he stood in front of is in the exhibition too, I think.  The studio sequence is on BBC Four's website and admittedly you can just see the Pier Head through the gallery windows.

Café de Flore
The Chronicles of Riddick
Thérèse Desqueyroux
Bruc. La llegenda
The Lego Movie

Between The Young Victoria and Dallas Buyers Club, Jean-Marc Vallée directed Cafe de Flore and there aren't that many filmmakers who're capable of this kind of gear change between heritage cinema, scorching indie and in the middle a Kieslowskian bit of art house in which the stories of 10s Montreal DJ and the mother of a down syndrome child in 60s Paris cross cutting with one another for ambiguous reasons.  It's the latter which are most involving, a near perfect recreation of the city's New Wave era surrounding an unrecognisable Vanessa Paradis in a extraordinarily brave performance as her character fights for her son's acceptance which overshadows the colder present day love triangle though that does at least have Evelyne Brochu, Delphine from Orphan Black as the "other woman".

Having spent the past week watching my way through all of Anita Sarkeesian's perception widening Feminist Frequency YouTube series, I now have the language to explain just what's wrong with the ending of The Chronicles of Riddick.   Essentially arguably the best character in Pitch Black, recast and renamed to more closely resemble Hollywood's narrow expectations (even if it is Gwen from Angel), is Damselled and Refrigerated in a way which would fit right in with the montage of computer game shots in the second Tropes vs Women video.  Which is a pity because the film does have some virtues in regards to Guardians style epic science fiction, hilariously straight-faced Macbeth plagiarism and Judi Dench as Obi-Wan Kenobi.  But none of that is an excuse for the adherence to the Smurfette syndrome.

As well films made in France, my serendipitous Lovefilm list also contains cinema which is about France out in the world and how the world views the country, so here we are at Legend of the Soldier, a Spanish western set within the Napoleon's campaign against the Spanish in which a cell of Boneparte's army rip through the countryside and villages searching for a drummer who near singlehandedly defeated them in the Monserrat mountains.  The film's most notable for its flashback sequences which appear to utilise 3D cameras but shift the shape of the image through a 2D frame to dizzying effect and might explain why some critics missed a major twist which otherwise makes a gear change about an hour in seem entirely ludicrous.  It really isn't.

The Lego Movie is awesome.  Sadly my viewing of it was disjointed, crappy experience as I had my first experience of seeing something through Blinkbox on the Chromecast.  Tesco are closing their Clubcard TV service which hasn't had nearly as much usage as they were expecting it seems, which isn't surprising given that the only way to see it through a television was by plugging a laptop in the HDMI socket, there not being any apps available.  As part of the announcement I was sent a voucher code for their Blinkbox service and having realised quickly it wouldn't cover a new release, I chose The Lego Movie and unlike all the other apps, the stream quality was appalling and kept buffering.  Eventually I watched the last hour on my tiny iPad screen.  Sigh.  I've added the film to my Amazon wishlist nonetheless....

Robot of Sherwood.

TV Just over ten years ago, your writer, not longer after watching the director’s cut of A Californian Archer in the Sheriff's Court decided to visit Nottingham and “do the Robin Hood” thing. Even on the six hour train journey down, or down and across, a bit, he didn’t have much of an idea of what to expect other than to see perhaps the castle. Thanks to the sheer longevity of this blog you can read about the whole thing here (I’ve now been writing this for a third of my life) including the visit to said castle where, after some haggling over guide books and what was their lack of interest in selling me one, the clerk behind the counter informed me that Robin Hood didn’t exist.

Luckily, opposite the station I found a Tales of Robin Hood tourist attraction in which the visitor was taken on Yorvik Viking Centre like chair ride through scenes from the stories, through Sherwood Forest and the Sheriff’s banqueting hall. At the end of that you were shown a video in which, as the younger version of me describes, saw “a Raymond Chandler style Private Dick visiting a contemporary Nottingham trying to find out if Robin Hood was indeed real. His findings were inconclusive and that it's pretty much a matter of opinions.” Ironically now the Tales of Robin Hood itself doesn’t exist having had to close because they couldn’t make enough rent to pay their landlord Tesco, which is doubly ironic given the topic I suppose.

Even after all of that I'm still not sure if Robin Hood really existed. A bit like Clara in Robot of Sherwood (paragraph three, will wonders?), I’ve always sort of hedged my bets on it, or found a sweet spot somewhere between there having been some kind of historical outlaw figure, a Pandorica-like fairy story and the idea that illiterate outlaws used the name Robin Hood as a kind of John Doe substitute. He’s mentioned in As You Like It and in a way, which suggests Shakespeare wasn’t convinced either way. The Two Gentlemen of Verona features a passage in which Valentine falls in with a band of outlaws which practically screams “this play would be in production more often if it was just about Robin Hood”.

The BBC itself has had some previous with the Hood (Troughton!). Twitter was soon abuzz with deluded notions about this being less funny than Maid Marian and her Merry Men as though it’s a fair comparison given they’re trying do different things but the most obvious contextual point is Robin Hood, the first bit of genre family entertainment broadcast in Who’s slot after it changed Saturday night television forever (by essentially remaking Lois & Clark apparently). The first version of this review blog post thing was going to be a meta-jokeoid about the resurrection of a previously cancelled but much loved drama series with different actors but I realised that as a meta-jokeoid it wasn’t particularly funny.

Within the Whoniverse he’s been pretty well established as a character. The (well alright if you say so) Twelfth Doctor forgets that in his first incarnation he met Robin and tussled with the Sheriff in Jonathan Morris’s brilliant Short Trip, The Thief of Sherwood (revealed through fictitious excepts from a Time Team in Doctor Who Magazine, Radio Times, Doctor Who: A Celebration, The Television Companion and Target Books "novelisation" of the serial). A later “Trip” by Joseph Lidster placed Polly in that exact story as Maid Marion. He’s also met Iris Wyldethyme, in his time. A version of him also appeared in an episode of the K9 spin-off, which the TARDIS Datacore has decided is canonical, so there you are.

There’s plenty more supposition and intrigue on the designated Wikipedia page but the point is, as Mark Gatiss has realised in crafting his script, in writing a story featuring one of Britain’s oldest mythic figure, it’s best to treat him as being just as relevant and as respectfully as the man (or potential Romola Garai) who constitutes our newest. To make as many jokes as he likes about the veracity of the existence of Robin Hood but to in the end realise that the best way to deal with him within the mechanism of Doctor Who, to keep our franchise’s ineffable magic intact, is to follow the lead of Ben Aaronovitch in integrating Camelot in Battlefield (and Jonathan Morris in his short prose) and make him as real as the Time Lord.

With a brief thought as to whether Sherlock Holmes would have received similar treatment under different show runners and not ones with all-consuming fires elsewhere this makes the episode immediately rewatchable because we now want to enjoy this characterisation without the nagging doubt that he’ll turn out to be a phantasmagoria with all the veracity of one of The Androids of Tara. With the knowledge that he’s “real” (or at least “real” within the structural scaffold of this fictional construct), his gag reflex and the fight sequences all gain a completely different complexion, a weight. All aided, of course by Tom Riley’s portrayal which stays just the right side of pantomime theatricality.

Not that the episode in any way stays away from pantomime theatricality. It’s a romp, a good old-fashioned romp, of a kind I’m not sure we’ve seen since, well I’m not sure. I’ve just asked Twitter, and suggestions include The Lodger and Closing Time both of which feel like more like homage to the sitcom rather than a Carry On film (though I appreciate the distinction is wafer thin). The Unicorn and the Wasp? Dinosaurs on a Spaceship? Perhaps there wasn’t one in nuWho. Perhaps we haven’t been here since City of Death in the 70s, which is odd considering Gatiss suggests in DWM that all of nuWho up until this point took its lead of City of Death and we’re all watching The Horror of Fang Rock now. Time will tell.

As befits a romp, the story isn’t that complex and probably would have easily graced The Sarah Jane Adventures back in the day, which is no way a criticism. One of the tendencies in nuWho has been to pile on more stuff and incident whereas this keeps things on the relative low-low. The pacing too is expressively slower than in previous series, as per Deep Breath, though with some detectable cross cutting but notably only generally to paper over the elements like the cutting of the manacles.  I could be of course be imagining all of this and if I was to do a scene length study across the Gatiss episodes, there’s no change at all.  But since I barely have enough time to think about where to buy a new bed even though I know it'll end up being John Lewis because it always is, that seems unlikely.

What did change is the ending. Understandably, given current events, although it’s fair to say this isn’t usual with Doctor Who, I don’t think, we discovered the other day that a beheading was cut from the finale. My first reaction was “a beheading in Doctor Who”? I mean I know it was supposed to be taking a darker turn but that’s ridiculous... But my second was, yes, probably a robot. Weeelll. Now that the episode has aired, this blog reveals, presumably after having read the leaked script, that this is indeed what it was, Ben Miller’s superbly Ainley-like Nottingham (if only we’d had this rather than Keith Allen’s interpretation) having been revealed as such in the middle of the final fight, extraordinarily so considered the King's own demons.

If this is reinstated for the blu-ray and streaming services (and we have to imagine it will) it’ll do at least three things. (1) Even without some tonal foreshadowing at the opening of the episode and taking Dinosaurs on a Spaceship into account, Nottingham’s tumble into the vat of gold is tough within the context of modern Who which tends to champion the life of anyone, even villains. Now that we know he’s an android it feels less, well, less. (2) It gives context to some of his more excessive behaviour not least during the Clara interrogation – he’s giving it some Zaroff because the robots have put him back together slightly wrong because (3) they’ve presumably based him at least on the stories in their databanks.

It also explains why the Doctor and Clara don’t seem like particularly active participants in that section of the denouement, just standing around and watching a lot. They weren’t originally. Unless the Doctor’s mind was turning over why some of this seemed strangely familiar given that the creation of printed circuits in ancient lands for a spaceship which has every potential of exploding and destroying the local population has been seen by his face before. No, I don’t think his “Why this face?” line from Deep Breath is a coincidence. I hope it means we’ll get an episode where the Doctor will meet the doppelganger he saved from Pompeii, or at least that the two are tied together somehow.

What was I saying, oh that’s right, Mark Gatiss is an equal opportunities writer, at least in terms of myths. Just as many Who tropes were skewered (arrowed?) tonight, not least the propensity the Doctor has for using his sonic to get out of scrapes. There’s also the small matter of the Time Lord’s God-like decision making which has been reduced somewhat, not that the show’s been afraid to present him as a slightly pathetic creature, from the sonic-off in The Doctor Dances to bringing the full power of his speechifying to bare on a bunny in The Day of the Doctor. But the sheer level of befuddlement in the cell tonight as pride gets the better of him is a welcome change, especially since it's treated as just that, not some malevolent secret plan.

Our acceptance of this is, of course the writing, but also the wicked chemistry between Capaldi and Coleman. The former is finally hitting his stride. On rewatching Into The Dalek, I noticed that he's far more comfortable in the scenes at the school and in the TARDIS indicating they may have been shot in a later production block (a contrast similar to Jenna in Hide last year) (or rather the year before) and if the Ben Wheatley material was shot first, then its clear here Peter’s had a chance to think about who his Doctor is, his accent baseline posh unless he’s shouting or desperate (and imagine if Tennant had been allowed to do this), the line readings much more comfortable (if only he could have gone back and redone the “bolt hole”).

Since we’re dwelling for a moment, notice too how much of an action episode this is for him or at least for this incarnation. In the pre-season discussions and especially during the transfer window, the expectation was that Twelfteenth would be cutting down on the exuberance and Danny Pink was being brought in as the action hero as well as the love interest. On the basis of tonight’s episode there’s a danger he’ll end up like Harry Sullivan. The Thirwelfth Doctor brought it, either through Capaldi himself or (if his comments in Extradential are any indication) some very good doubles, with spoon duelling and Venusian Aikido) (height!) (hait!) (howeverthisisspelt!).

My reservations about the treatment of Clara in the previous episode and how it might have been a blip are largely dealt with here by his carer largely having narrative agency throughout most of the episode even when the apparent lead is in full bloom. Jenna’s nothing less than extraordinary in this episode. Notice how, during the interrogation scene with the Sheriff she subtly also poshifies her accent apart from during the asides, suggesting she’s revealing to us her true nature. Meanwhile, this episode confirms she was born in Blackpool (Jenna’s own home town) and given previous dates, a year later than Lucie Miller. There’s nothing much to that, other than how the franchise’s connection to the town continues. Freeze frame.

Not really, because as we discovered eighteen months after that fateful freeze frame, the best legends continue. As Robin says of him and the Doctor, “Perhaps we will both be stories. And may those stories never end … and remember Doctor, I’m just as real as you are.” A slightly less poetic, more portentous version of “Aren’t we all?” but the message is clear. Except of course when Robin’s legend surfaces, it’s the same story interpreted again and again in different ways, whereas for the Doctor and the miracle of Doctor Who it’s all one story and in Robot of Sherwood, I at least have confirmation after a shaky start, that he’s still my Doctor, it’s still my favourite series, and there are few things more real to me than that.