Historical

TV I've just rediscovered this review of The Doctor Who Experience in Blackpool I wrote a few years ago and thought I'd share. Has anyone visited lately?

One of the remarkable results of the recently announced new series of Doctor Who is that the original series, all twenty-six years is open for rediscovery by lapsed believers. I'm not sure if the ratings of the ongoing reruns on UKtv Gold have shot up, but within days of the press release, video tapes of old stories disappeared off the shelves of Virgin and HMV and DVD sales shot up. It's almost as though the interested are trying to reignite a shared heritage, parents preparing their kids for the time when they can sit down with them on a Saturday for the appearance of a TARDIS and the growl of a monster much as their parents did with them all those years ago. I keep wanting to make a comparison with the film Field of Dreams about how even though fathers and sons can never communicate there is always baseball to fall back on as a topic. For some people the English equivalent is football; for a pocket of us it was Doctor Who.

Stories still permiate of how the baseball diamond manufactured for that film has now become a place of pilgrimage for people who want to remember the glory days -- for parents to show their kids what it used to be like before sponsorship and high wages took hold -- in effect, the film itself has drifted into reality. They've built it and people come. Extraordinarily for years similar places have existed for fans of the Timelord's adventures. The Doctor Who exhibitions which have opened and closed over the years, collecting together props and merchandise from the series have been a place for people to go and experience their favourite programme. For fans they're even an integral part of their childhood. Even as Tom Baker's moment was prepared for, my parents took me around the place in Blackpool -- through the mock TARDIS doors into a blackness populated by Zygons, Sea Devils and Daleks. I only have vague images of my time there -- giant displays filled with monsters that could come alive. I must have been during the closing moments of its life because it closed its doors in October 1985.

But other exhibitions sprang up. I never visited Longleat -- I dreamed of the giant maze though. For fans the name conjours a moment when the show's popularity peaked and during Easter weekend of 1983 and it was their equivalent of Woodstock as sixty thousand people turned up at the stately homes to meet the living Doctors and companions and see the props - again a similar collective experience to a baseball game and no doubt talked about with the same misty eyes as someone might about the New York Yankees winning the World Series. A permanent exhibition stayed there for many years, fighting through even when a fire threatened to destroy all the props and sets held there (it did some damage - the original K9 model - the electrics for which were the cause of the blaze -- was reduced to cinders). It closed in October 2003.

The other exhibition was at Llangollen. It feels right that these things seemed to spring up in random parts of the world, much like the police box. This was attached to the Dapol factory who had the license to make Doctor Who figures and models. I visited here not all that long ago, at the turn of the millennium - one of those lapsed fans. Something about submerging myself in a past pastime and the excitement of the man in the shop telling a new series was being written (which I assume now to be the Big Finish cd plays) led me back to fandom and the sleepless nights I've had trying to rationalize UNIT dating (don't ask - the offside rule has nothing on this soccer fans). It too closed in 2003.

Ironically, all of these places where fans could relive their childhood closed at a time when celebrations were happening elsewhere. As well as the Fortieth Anniversary, as The Doctor himself promised on more than one occasion he was coming back. Just when interest was at its highest in years, other than their living rooms to watch old episodes, people had nowhere to go. So its odd in fact that things should travel full circle and something new has opened in Blackpool. The Doctor Who Experience on the Golden Mile brings together the meat of Longleat and Llangollen into a new show which recreates some of the spirit of the past but with brand new displays.

It would be very hard for any fan, childhood or otherwise, not to catch their breath as they step through the new TARDIS themed doorway into the massive first room with a console directly in the middle (especially with the theme tune playing in the background). It's extraordinarily detailed - rather than a recreation of a prop its something new - all dials and computer readouts, things flashing across the panels, the time rotor bobbing up and down in the centre. I tried to imagine how a child might consider it - would the lights confuse them or would they want to know what everything does?

The exhibition doesn't particularly tell the story of the making of the series. Although there is a sixties-styled living room in the doorway with a family watching the opening moments of the very first episode (with one of the children - yes - hiding behind the sofa) there isn't a sense of progression. The items themselves don't appear in chronological order. There's a perfectly valid reason for this - sixties props are very hard to come by. As far as I can tell anything which didn't end up in a skip is in private hands. This is a collection of what the BBC had left when the vultures had gone. Not enough to describe the passage of time for the series but what is here is deeply impressive and will still makes you want to run from display cabinet to display cabinet to see what is here.

The layout instead takes the form of a kind of linear maze (a similar format to Llangollen actually) as the costumes and props generally appear in situ, recreations of moments from the show or possible scenes. The approach is similar to the diarramas you might catch at a Natural History Museum and it feels quite apt, alien worlds appearing before your eyes. Some appear in darkness, a surprise lurking at the flick of a switch, light illuminating the sudden appearance of the Magus or The Candyman. All of The Doctor's costumes are here too (except for McGann). It's just simple amazing seeing everything in the flesh (or fibre glass) and imagining the days of filming, the long days but also the fun being had. My favourite is probably still K9. He embodies what the tv series was all about at that time -- it was -- y'know for kids.

A lot of love is obviously on display here and in some ways it seems wrong to find fault, especially since these are early days and it's no doubt going to develop in time for the new series. So instead I'll offer suggestions. There needs to be a coherent policy on signage. Many of the displays appear without any explanation as to what's there (which is a good guessing game for fans I suppose) and others have an A4 sheet of paper with the mid-nineties merchandising logo and a short description of the story being considered. What would be nice is something which gives pertinant story information initially then goes into some depth as to how the piece was constructed. Enough work has been done by series archivist Andrew Pixley for this to be available - perhaps he could be contacted to put something together.

Also, the lighting. The exhibition is awash with disco flashing effects and some displays are incredibly dark. This is obviously an attempt to hide the shortcomings of many of the props (either in terms of construction or age) but in isolated cases it does render them incredibly difficult to see. I remember the Llangollen show having static lighting and it proved to be incredibly effective. I suppose both issues are a reflection of the target audience falling between the casual viewers who want to see A Dalek or A Cyberman and those of us who know the behind the scenes stories and want to see the products themselves.

But these are just niggles. It's just great that in the dawn of the new era we again have somewhere we can go and like that baseball diamond a place we can take our own children to show them a major part of our own childhood, both the series and the exhibitions we excitedly visited with Dad. Yes, there is always the possibility that their media savvy little eyes will look at a Silurian and decide that it's 'a bit crap' and not scary at all. But in the end, actually is it really about them? Give it a year, a decent new series and they'll be as starstruck as you were at their age.

"Why you lookin' through the peelhole?"

Music Watch it now before the tabloids misunderstand it on Monday. Britney Spears, very confused and dippy being recorded by her husband. Metafilter seem to be under the impression she's on drugs. I'm not convinced. Just seems to be happy beer madness to me. But there are enough phrases to keep t-shirt and bumper sticker manfucturers very busy indeed ...

"I'm ugly. My jaw hurts."

"That's like a new movie and stuff."

"I feel like I've been missing out on life."

"Life. Like things and things going on."

I too thought she was talking about this and not this. Funnily enough, no one seems to have questioned how it ended up on YouTube. My conspiracy theory is that it's a publicity stunt, a Blair Witch version of this, possibly scripted and that Britney is a far better actress than anyone could possibly imagine. We may never know. [see also]
Update From a comment at Mefi: 'This is (apparently) from the outtakes section of the Chaotic DVD.' Which means people will be paying good money to see this ...

Not So Super

Film Of course the really, really great thing about the new Superman film is that it managed to avoid these horrors.

Super

Film Like all good legends, Superman exists as a collective memory. Since his creation in the thirties, and despite being under copyright of DC Comics, hundreds of writers and artists, directors and actors have interpreted the role and the elements of his story in different ways, yet still maintain the iconography. Smallville. Metropolis. The Daily Planet. Lex Luther. Lois Lane. Of course the mix changes and is adapted -- in the Fleisher cartoon, Superman was brought up in an orphanage; the Lois and Clark television series emphasised the romance and domesticity; there have been Communist and British Supermen, children and even dogs. And then there are the films.

Cleverly, Bryan Singer director of Superman Returns respects this collected knowledge, assumes his audience knows the story and continues from there. But this is not jusst the continuation to the Richard Donner films that some have claimed. It's another interpretation of the legend, the sequel to a film that can exist in our imaginations. Some of the story and characterisations follow on from what was presented in those earlier films, some does not. Even with John Ottman's lovable restringing of John Williams' score it doesn't feel similar. It's a peak into Singer's memory of everything Superman, everything he wants the man of steel to be and that's just right.

So Kate Bosworth's Lois Lane is not the screwball, backchatting, overconfident, overbiting reporter we've seen before. She has a family too with James Marsden giving his best every performance. She's tempered, somewhere between Margot Kidder and Teri Hatcher, funny without being smug, with a snatch of realism that some actresses have missed in their charge to make Lois larger than life. Kevin Spacey's Lex Luthor is larger than life, but not the superhuman figure he's appeared elsewhere -- essentially a gangland boss with aspirations of grandeur, a hateful figure who talks a good game but still needs fellow hoodlums to do the really dirty work.

Despite pretentions to the modern world with computers and fax machines and mobile phones, The Daily Planet is publishes from a marble masterpiece that recalls old Hollywood newspaper films rather than the modernist new Hollywood nightmare of the 70s. Metropolis is essentially New York, but it always was, a post-modern mix of old and new with buildings that almost look like recognisable landmarks. Smallville retains its Norman Rockwell stylings, the only element that really copies the Donner films which is as it should be since just as Clark returns to his childhood home, some of us old enough to remember will be hit with waves of nostalgia from when we saw that landscape for the first time when we were young.

But what of Brandon Routh, stepping into the cape and tights. He's been unfairly described as imitating Christopher Reeves since but his presence is entirely different. Reeves was a physical actor, in action and comedy, but there was always something all too human about him, especially as he strained to catch a falling human. There's a placidity to Routh -- as he heads into action there a matter-of-factness, not so much been there - done that, as this is the job I have to do. Watch his deep blue eyes though there's a godliness there, repressed beneath. Even as Clark Kent he has a presence, he simply doesn't fit, as the world passes on around him. That's why he's living out of suitcases and doesn't have a desk as the newspaper, if he had those he'd be settled and he can't. Clark is the mask that he wears to pass within humanity not the other way around.

The movie is two and half hours long because it takes its time to show us this world and the man who flies through it. In places the photography is almost painterly recalling the work of Alex Ross whose art in the comic books Marvels and Kingdom Come brought a unheard of visual realism to the world of superheroes. But so-called high art too is an influence with frames that look like they were storyboarded by Salvador Dali and Peter Blake. The film is not afraid of providing biblical imagery reminding us that this is a god amongst men. But there's also an definite realism to the moments when Superman flies through the city and people simply stand and watch. He's returned but he's not quiet bedded in yet, so people are still surprised to see a man that can fly. I wonder if in the next film he'll be dashing around a Metropolis that is used to his presence and simply carries on with their daily lives.

What makes this a great film, is that Singer understands that stories need room to breath, and the story being told is as iconic as everything else. It's as simple as Luthor has a plot to take over the world, Superman trips over before finally stopping him. There isn't much more here than you would find in a twenty-two page comic book. The execution is almost picaresque reduced to its simplest plot elements without the usual faff, recalling Terence Malik's Days of Heaven. It's actually a bit disconcerting to be suddenly thrown back into a product that favours visuals and thematic concerns over dialogue, with the words that are here being the absolute minimum required and yet still poetry. Superman's final lines are perfectly biblical and yet are just right within context and set-up the events of a possible sequel perfectly. And if that film isn't made then they're beautifully adding texture to the mythology and the legend.

Wild

Film "Tartan Video have announced the UK DVD release of The Complete Ingmar Bergman Collection for 13th November 2006. A director of such stature, Tartan has been releasing nearly all of his work from his debut feature to his most recent work, Saraband. Now his lifetime of achievement is presented in a specially designed collectable box set. It includes 30 discs, including classics such as The Seventh Seal, Persona, The Virgin Spring and Autumn Sonata." -- DVD Times

It really boggles the mind that you'll be able to buy a director's entire film career, his life basically in a box, all in one go. Having spent years amassing Woody Allen's career because he's jumped about the film studios so much, I wonder if there's actually any fun in this ...

Twinkie

Life I discovered today after many months of sweating over essay word lengths that the formating of academic references predictably changes how many words are counted in Microsoft Word. So

(Burns, 2006:45)

... counts as three words whereas ...

(Burns, 2006: 45).

Is four. The second format is expected apparently which would account for why my essays always seem short even though the word count is next.

Next. Amazon.com are offering Gormet Food and non-perishable groceries and since I've always wanted to try twinkes, ever since they appeared in adverts in imported comic books during the 1980s, Ben Grimm in particular being an advocate, and the Ghostbusters mention, this was an opportunity. Except when I reached the order page, I saw this ...



That would be an expensive twinkie ... I think I'll wait until I'm in the US ... whenever that is ...
Film More news on Edgar Wright's version of Ant Man. Apparently Joe Cornish is 'involved' ... [via]

Go West (Wing)

TV "For a show that had once not merely conceived of but made a thrilling virtue out of the idea of treating a suite of offices as a de facto racetrack, both dialogue and visuals careering round corridors, up and down staircases, even - for a time - in and out of boiler cupboards, it was depressingly astonishing to realise how little of such genius invention survived through to the final episode. [...] In fact, this might well have been the most boring installment of The West Wing ever. For much of the time the experience was akin to watching a politely-staged, everso-earnest documentary on the procedures behind the appointment of a new US President, such was the absence of, well, anything much in the way of pace, imagination, and even a decent plot.' -- Ian Jones

Ian careful lists many of the issues that dogged the programme right through to the final moment when the plane flew into the distance. I keep thinking about that final shot. Surely those final moments should have been about Bartlett and us saying goodbye to the White House for the last time rather than some stock footage from a British Airways commercial? I keep wondering if Sorkin had been working on these last episodes if they would have had a similar flashback structure to those shows which looked at the campaign for the White House (which incidentally said much more about the subject than the whole of the seventh season), instead looking at the first faltering days in office demonstrating how much the administration had changed. But then in Sorkin's version Toby would have actually been in the final episode (what was that about?) and there might have been an explanation for where all the characters who disappeared into the woodwork went -- particularly Mandy -- I'm sure we still don't know if she was shot at the end of season one.

K9's Company

TV Apparently the latest issue of Aerial, the BBC's internal magazine, is reporting the following:

"CBBC is developing a spin-off series from Doctor Who based on the adventures of investigative journalist Sarah Jane, played by Elisabeth Sladen, and to be written by Russell T Davies. Sladen, who originally played the Doctor's assistant in 1973, returned for the last series where she was seen vying with young Rose Tyler for the Doctor's affections". [via]

That'll be the third series going into production at Camelot. Of course, other Sarah Jane Smith adventures are available. Meanwhile Billie Piper spoke to Bill Turnbull this morning on BBC Breakfast. The clip's here. "But, after two years as the Doctor's assistant, Billie felt it was time to do something else."

Wierdly enough I had my first Doctor Who related dream in decades last night. I was an extra on a feature film version being shot in the Trafford Centre in Manchester with our Mr Tennant as the timelord and for some random reason, Katie Holmes as the companion. I don't remember much else, except for dry ice, plenty of explosions and that Anthony Ainley was dangling from a wire from the room, floating about and laughing maniacally.

I've been under a lot of strain lately.

Wrecked

Film Another week another link to The AV Blog, this time they're suggesting 14 Truly Sexy Sex Scenes. I remember being at university and sitting down with my friends to enjoy Betty Blue and watching their faces as the opening few minutes unfolded. I don't think I could possibly disagree with any of them, and it's good to see some left of field choices like Y Tu Mamma Tambien. If I was really being asked, I might have also included No Way Out, one of the milestones of my teenage years, the moment between Kevin Costner and Sean Young in the back of the limousine was filled with forbidden pleasures; Pretty Woman -- I knew intellectually (if that's the word) that Julia Roberts didn't appear in this scene but again this didn't stop my young mind blowing fuse. It was the boots I'm sure; and Mr. & Mrs Smith because I really didn't understand the fascination with Angelina Jolie until I saw her that scene of her and Brad Pitt on the floor of the wrecked house. In my head this scene probably goes on much longer than it does in the actual the film ...

Melting

Blog! "i am melting. the heat is taking away my patience. it has evaporated, yet clings to my skin as so much stickiness. we return from weeks at my mother's house, from all the many family deaths, visiting cousins and useless uncles, swimming everyday and aleks "rolling into a ball underwater," - Anna.

Don't drink the water

Drink "A new Harvard University study found that boys who drink water with levels of fluoride considered safe by federal guidelines are five times more likely to have a rare bone cancer than boys who drink unfluoridated water. Fluoride has been banned from drinking water throughout Europe." -- Alex Jamieson.

Yesterday I was half joking about there being something wrong with water from the tap and bottle. Although this data is from America and obviously the levels of floride in their/your water will be different to ours it does give you pause for thought that the safe amount apparently coming through the tap is taken to dangerous levels by the food we eat. Inevitably the Wikipedia has further information. Again, like Jack I ask. Is it safe?

NML

Blog! National Museums Liverpool now have a fabulous blog 'The Naked Museum' all new, reviews and previews. It's going to be really helpful when I become re-engaged when I have some more free time.

Smell

That Day Incidentally as an addendum to the interview, I've thought of a trait for the smell character -- s/he could be a gardener. I think this could work.

Spring

Life I visited Buxton today to sample the spring water at the source. I've been feeling a bit trapped lately and decided that it might help. The spring, an always on steady flowing water fountain opposite the tourist information is in sandstone in the shape of a lion. As I patiently queue up the people ahead of me are filling up empty five litre bottles. A woman smiles as she hovers her bottle under the stream.

"Is this the actual actual spring?" I ask.
"It is." She answers, "And it's a god send. Our water's off at home. With any luck it'll be back on by the end of the day."

Then it's my turn. I cup my hands under the stream and take a sip and then a gulp. It's possibly the purest water I've ever tasted. From a tap or a plastic bottle, water seems to always have a slightly unpleasant back taste as though the sheer process of getting it to a house or shop has ruined it somehow.

But this is the first time I've found lukewarm water truly refreshing. It dribbles over the edges of my fingers and looks pretty in the light as it hits the grill underneath. I take four or five more gulps and then throw some around my face -- it goes up my nose. I take some more. Then I realise it's time to go. I feel much better -- I'm sure it's a placebo effect -- the result of the process of being there as much as the water itself -- but it helped.

First post

Hello This is not my first post (obviously). But I wanted to see how easily it would be to mess about with this search. [via]

War With Stuff

Film "Increasingly, my life can be described as a war with stuff: the old stuff, the incoming stuff, the stuff that needs to be processed, the stuff that needs to be shipped out to contributors, the stuff I love, the stuff I've outgrown, the cool but otherwise unfunctional stuff, the sentimental stuff, the stuff that's cute, the heirloom stuff, the broken stuff that needs to get fixed or replaced -- all of it demanding a place in my life and regular dustings and refusing to be thrown away." -- Tim Lucas

I re-organised my dvds and some of my cds yesterday having bought a new shelf. I have even more than I thought. Ironically have two copies The Bourne Identity, a film about a man who forgets things. Unlike Jason, I'm unlikely to storm HMV looking for answers.

Cheer up, Hamlet

Elsewhere Just posted a review of the brilliant Slings and Arrows on the never forgotten Hamlet Weblog.

Slings and Arrows (2003)



Hamlet played by Jack Crew
Directed by Geoffrey Tennant

Any backstage theatre drama that decides to tackle a production of Hamlet must be brave and crazy since they ultimately risk comparison with Ken Branagh's charming In The Bleak Midwinter. The excellent Canadian television series Slings and Arrows neatly sidesteps the issue by concentrating on the business and sponsorship of a modern theatre, reserving the usual conflicts surrounding the production for the closing few episodes. Tonally a crossing Northern Exposure with Arrested Development, the series takes the incidents from the play and scatters them through its episodes, so there is the death of a spiritual father, a duel between old rivals, the madness of an errant 'son', a ghost and a betrayal. Joyfully, rather than attempting to slavishly follow these familiar patterns, much like The Lion King they're merely influences and don't rule the action. Former mountie Paul Gross plays Geoffrey Tennant, a generally insane theatre director called in when his estranged mentor dies. He finds himself battling through a tenuous grip on his sanity whilst being embroiled in a battle to keep a theatre festival from descending into populism because of the serpentine machinations of a representative from a corporate sponsor. Meanwhile his previous lover Ellen, and Gertrude in the ensuing production has taken another young man under her wing and Ophelia's understood is canoodling with the movie star that's been hired to play the dane.

Frankly it sounds terrible but because of some excellent scriptwriting, uniformally amazing cast and a willingness from the director to creep out of the television roots to create something that is often very filmic, this is an often exciting, provocative and hilarious piece of drama. Whilst snatches of Fraser can still be seen in the eyes of Gross, it's amazing to see him playing a drunk mad impresario with such gusto combined with some touching tenderness. The surprisingly cast Rachel McAdams (this first series was filmed pre-both The Notebook and Red Eye) is as funny as she's always been, instantly likeable and perfect when she convincingly demonstrates her Shakespearian chops as Ophelia - I've often wondered the extent to which actors playing actors giving good performance throw off that psychological framing and are simply presenting their own performance - in which case I'd love to see McAdams essaying this role further. The same could be said of Luke Kirby, who's Jack Crew makes a brilliantly mad, passionate dane. Also obviously noteworthy are the excellent comic performances from Stephen Ouimette as Oliver Welles the Hamlet Sr whose not quiet yet ready to give up on reality and Martha Burns the Gertrudesque pushy, bored actress who is eventually reinspired by former lover Geoffrey.

The real success is the hint of cynicism that largely pervades the programme in regards to theatre and the commercialisation thereof. The reason that some of the canon are never produced is not necessarily because of the commonly held belief that they're not very good, it's that the educational curriculum and routine mean that the top ten are always being produced. One of themes of the series is that the text has become stale through over production with audiences being there so that they can look like their more cultural than they probably are. But the knife runs deeper here and the gloriously serpentine Holly (Jennifer Irwin) who wants to go even further and drop the art theatre altogether in favour of musicals. The central message in the end is that if you present the classics in that same bored, restoration format that people might be expecting it will be boring. But play it with passion, some anger, touch of irreverance and with the rough edges intact it will find an audience. The irreverance extends to the title sequence in which two old theatre queens sing the following lyric in a bar were the beer has obviously been flowing for some time...

Cheer up Hamlet,
Chin up Hamlet,
Buck up you melancholy Dane.
So, your uncle is at hand,
Murdered Dad and married Mum,
That's really no excuse to be as glum as you've become.
So, wise up Hamlet,
Rise up Hamlet,
Buck up and sing the new refrain.
Your incessant monologizing fills the castle with ennui,
Your antic disposition is embarrassing to see,
And by the way you sulky brat, the answer is To Be!
You're driving poor Ophelia insane!
So, shut up, you rogue and peasant!
Grow up, it's most unpleasant!
Cheer up you melancholy Dane.

Overall it resembles a Nashville of the theatre and impeccably structured, tells its story slowly, revealing the deep seated enmities and relationships across its six episodes. I wouldn't say that it's hilariously funny though - more clever and satirical and in places beautifully sweet. There's also a blissful ignoring of the televisual vogue for cutting between scenes every minute or so; theatrically some scenes to run as long as they need to be and not because the writers and directors are trying to show how 'experimental' they can be - it takes some work to allow two people to sit around in a room for five minutes talking about theatrical politics or literature and still make it exciting and here its managed seemingly effortlessly. But I guarantee that when the infernal skull needs to be in the right place at the right time, you'll be on the edge of your seat as I was hoping that Geoffrey can get there in time.