Elsewhere Sometimes when writing a Doctor Who review I'll begin with a decent angle and work it through to a decent conclusion. Other times I'll begin with a flimsy angle and run it into the ground. This is one of those times.

Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Sweet and Lowdown (1999)



Then Viewed at the Odeon on London Road in screens five or six. I was the only audience member and at one point during the trailers I had to get up to go to the toilet. Philosophically I wandered if like the tree in the forest not making a sound, the screen would cease to exist if I wasn’t there.

Now I’ve now reached the end of the nineties and it’s with some surprise as I watched Sweet and Lowdown that I realised that Woody hadn’t until that point made a bad film. When I was doing the Hitchcock thing, I was disappointed to find that I was impressed with less than a half of his work but with the exception of – A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy or Another Woman – I’ve been constantly delighted and looked forward to watching all of these films. Neither of those is a bad film and have enough of a positive critical response to suggest that it’s simply my own feelings about them. He’s constantly trying to up his game, create some magic. There’s no complacency here.

He could, for example, have churned out dozens of Hannah and Her Sisters or Manhattans, relationship dramas set in New York. That’s certainly what his reputation suggests and with a location change worked perfectly well for both Ozu and Rhomer. And yet here we are in 1999 and he’s finally produced a musical biopic commemorating his love of jazz music, the jazz music that’s permeated all of his previous work. But of course, being Woody Allen, it’s a fictional biography structured around a series of anecdotes offered by real jazz experts including the director himself who sometimes can’t quite get the story straight (at one point we’re shown three different versions of the same event, just as outlandish as each other).

The storytelling idea is somewhat similar to Radio Days or Broadway Danny Rose and like those films by suggesting that what we’re seeing are the half forgotten moments and rare insights, he succeeds in creating a legend. A viewer hitting this film cold could be convinced, as I was initially (I even looked for some of his records), despite the eccentricities, (“Wanna go to the dump and shoot some rats?”) that Emmet Ray existed, especially with the inclusion of so many real life names and performers. Woody could have created a film about a real figure, but that wouldn’t necessarily have provided the leeway to add his usual brand of poetry, improvisation and irony.

Much of the film’s success stems, of course, from Sean Penn’s central performance. Woody says that he didn’t give the actor much direction, that there was no discussion about the character and back story. Emmet Ray is in the script, the arrogance, rudeness and peculiarity, but Penn brings to what could have been a cartoon character, a humanity, the glint in his eye that explains how someone so broadly sketched could produce such transcendental music. The guitar playing isn’t him – it’s Howard Alden overdubbed -- but Alden taught Penn to play and the actions are very convincing; the actors makes Ray the kind of performer seems to enter a trance the rest of the world becoming beside the point.

In directing Samantha Morton, Woody suggested that he’d like to see her play Hattie like Harpo Marx. Once she’d found out who Harpo Marx was he then had to ask her to key down her facial expressions a little bit after a few days because the impersonation was too uncanny. Her job is largely to react to Penn’s cruelty, but she’s able to communicate an awful lot through the shape of her mouth. Uma Thurman is funny, but the relationship between Emmett and Hattie is so strongly observed the one brief moment when the film loses its way is when Thurman is front and centre. But that scene also gives us the joy of seeing John Waters acting in a Woody Allen film (imagine the reverse of that scenario) so it’s probably forgiveable.

The cinematographer is a surprising choice; Fei Zhao is best known for giant historic Chinese epics (his next film would be House of Flying Daggers) and would work with Woody on this and Small Time Crooks. He brings a rare depth of field to shots and unlike some of Woody’s other collaborators seems to be accentuating the character rather than simply filming around them. That’s especially true in the scene were Ray’s moon folly is hoisted into the rafters. At first we see it from the ground from the steady position of his fellow bandmembers, then there’s a reverse point of view shot from Emmett’s drunken perspective in which that ground is wobbling about. We know immediately that the scheme isn’t going to work and await with trepidation the impending disaster.

First TV Debate.

Politics For the benefit of international readers, tonight offered something of a historic moment for UK politics with the first live television debate between the three party leaders which is why some names that have no relevance to you will have been trending on twitter (it's us getting our own back for Justin Bieber). In televisual terms, ITV's presentation of the first debate was bargain basement; the set looked like it last saw service during Telethon '90 and the compare/moderator Alistair Stewart seemed more nervous and snippy than the party leaders themselves, randomly shouting out their surnames in a bizarre attempt to recreate the mood of University Challenge.

The majority of first reaction polls (in other words the ones from television networks without vested interests) suggest Nick Clegg won and he really did. Far from being the add-on many feared he often dominated exchanges and as Cameron offered anecdotes but little in the way of policy detail and Brown spent most of his time either agreeing with Clegg or asking for the chance to put right what he let go wrong. In his opening statement, Clegg said that he wanted to demonstrate that he offered an alternative to the old politics and he continued with that throughout time and again, noting that the more the other two argued, the more they sounded like they were saying the same thing over and over again.

Nick genuinely laughing when Gordon agreed with him once again. Addressing one questioner he then referred to another from earlier on in the debate working in her location (Blackburn -- see -- I remember it too now). But in general he just seemed more confident and got his points across more clearly. He also repeated them often, understanding that people may be tuning in and out and that they will remember policies best if they hear them over and over. That didn't happen with the other two who were too busy squabbling with each other over details of policy and points scoring rather than addressing the audience both in the studio and at home. If Nick Clegg's performance tonight doesn't increase the Liberal Democtrat's standing in the polls, nothing will.

Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Celebrity (1998)



Then Watched in screen one in the Cornerhouse in Manchester.

Now Like Deconstructing Harry, Celebrity is seen by some as the moment when the rot set in, when Woody Allen stopped being as good as he used to be. It still retains a solid splat inducing 39% at Rotten Tomatoes. I wasn’t a fan on first viewing but this time around I found it as interesting and entertaining as any of the films in this period and certainly more accessible than some of his work from the late eighties.

It’s very prescient about were the nature of celebrity was heading, the intensity with which some notables are pursued in the internet age having not yet calcified. As one of the characters notes, “You can tell a lot about society by the people it venerates”. But it also illustrates that everyone idolises someone; when Ken Branagh’s writer Lee is invited to a dinner party he’s still in awe of other writers and book editors who don’t quite understand his adulation.

The film captures Leonardo Di Caprio just as he was about to make a concerted effort to ditch his teen idol status and he seems to be portraying an exaggerated version of the public’s perception of him. Adding to the authenticity, his entourage consists of the kinds of actors you might expect would be in his entourage – Gretchen Mol is his girlfriend and the hangers on are a young Sam Rockwell and Adrian Grenier who five years later would himself fill the Di Caprio-type role in the tv series Entourage.

The film employs one of Woody’s standard “novelistic” structures of two thematically related stories running alongside one another as seen in Husbands and Wives and later Melinda and Melinda. Here he compares the fall of Lee with the rise of is ex-wife Robin (Judy Davies) to illustrate the randomness of success and how even the most headstrong amongst can see the world crash about around our feet. What goes up, must come down.

Within that, the stories have a very sketch like structure, most of the various sequences reasonably self-contained. The impression (aided by the lustrous black and white photography) is of a series of memories, the characters constantly reflecting backwards on where they’ve been. As the editing bounces between the two stories only rarely is there much cause and effect but there is symmetry, the attitudes reversing between Lee and Robin from the first screen scene to the last.

The other disconcerting aspect of the film is Ken’s performance, in which he’s essentially impersonating Woody. In this New York Daily News interview, it’s revealed that like John Cusack in Bullets Over Broadway, the director asked Ken to drop the impression and just act. Unlike Cusack, Branagh just carried on anyway:
”I wrote Kenneth Branagh a letter when I sent him the "Celebrity" script. I said to him, "This part is not me. If I was younger, I would definitely not play it. When I was writing the thing, before I thought of you, I had someone like Alec Baldwin in mind. I think he would have been great doing it, but he was not available - and I want to be completely upfront about this. But this is definitely no way me. It requires a younger and more attractive person than me. Even when I was younger, I wasn't attractive enough to play this part. I need someone who's got more flair."

“And, of course, Kenneth is a great actor and I thought it would be a breeze for him. And then as he was doing it, I would go over to him and say "You know, it seems to me that you're doing me. A lot." And he'd say, "I hear what you're saying, don't worry." And then guys on the crew would tell me that he was doing me. And I just sort of threw in the towel and felt, that's how he sees this character. This is how he sees him, and this is a great Shakespearean actor. What's the smartest thing to do here? Do I try to force him into a different mold, or do I go with his take on the character?”
I imagine the conversation was very much like the audition scene in his In The Bleak Midwinter between Branagh’s own avatar Michael Maloney and an actor who’s doing an impression of Olivier’s Richard III:
Ken: Well, I like, I know, like um … yeah … hmm.
Woody: Ken, I like what you’re doing, it’s very good. But could we just try losing the accent, the gesticulating, the unfinished sentences and try the scene again?
Ken: Well, I like, I know, like um … yeah … hmm.
Woody: Brilliant! Much better! Thanks very much.
Ken: Oh that felt great, I really felt like it freed me up.
But what Branagh’s doing isn’t simply an impression or a Mark Kermode-style parody. Every movement, the intonation of his voice, the ticks, yes the gesticulation, is like Woody. The level of observation is startling, it’s disconcerting in a similar way to the animated ant Z in Antz, but somehow it works. As Woody says in that interview, “I was amazed! He's a great mimic.”

This is the last film he shot with Sven Nykvist and there’s a return to the far more controlled camera work of Crimes and Misdemeanours. My favourite sequence artistically is late on when Lee, having made a commitment to Famke Jansson’s character meets his earlier crush Winona Ryder in a crowded bar. The pair sit opposite one another at a table and the camera pans through 180 degrees focusing on their two faces and somehow, amid the conversation chaos, despite the usual mono soundtrack, we’re able to focus on their staccato dialogue as Lee realises that his emotional life has just become frightfully complicated.

Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Antz (1998)



Then Seen first at the Odeon on London Road, on screen one, just after the refurbishment I think, when it went from five to ten auditoriums. Antz is usually considered a failure and a poor cousin to both PiXAR and Dreamworks’s later releases (and missing from the usual showreel they put on new discs which does have Bee Season of all things), but it reached the number one slot on the week of release in the UK. It’s available for £3 from Amazon at the moment on DVD, though I’ll warn you that it’s not a brilliant transfer; these days digimations tend to be sent to disc direct from the source code whereas Antz looks like it was copied over from a non-HD source in the traditional way, the smeary transfer not doing justice to the crowd scenes.

Now Here is what Woody Allen told the New York Daily News on the subject of Antz:
“That was hilarious. I was having a drink with Jeff Katzenberg and he said I was the voice he needed for an ant. I've never seen "Antz," but it made more money than my last five pictures put together. I wish it was mine.”
Well, of course you haven’t (or hadn’t – this was over ten years ago) and of course you do. Antz is of course notorious because it was part of Katzenberg’s revenge strategy when he left Disney – to produce a superior film about the social insects before they could distribute A Bug’s Life. He succeeded on both counts – Antz turned up a month earlier and unlike the PiXAR film (which is mainly a bunch of film parodies wrapped around a quest structure – meaow etc.) is thematically fairly complex. As the wikipedia sums up better than I could without simply plagiarising them without attribution:
“The film explores aspects of individualism and collectivism and shows the transition of the colony from a dictatorship to a more-or-less traditional monarchy combined with a constitutional republic.”
The hiring of Woody to play Z, the hero ant is the key difference and gives the film a different tone. Four writers are credited on the screenplay: Paul Weitz, Chris Weitz, Todd Alcott and Chris Miller but the character’s asides are pure Woody as is the opening and best scene in which Z is introduced talking about how insignificant he feels within the colony and about his childhood. The directors were originally going to begin the film with the shot flying through the colony, but they understood that Woody was their greatest asset and decided to put him front and centre.

With digimation still in its relative infancy, it’s startling to see Woody’s gesticulations being mimicked so successfully through an ant who looks nothing like him (although some concept art on the wall behind one of the animators in the making of documentary has a grotesque design in which Woody’s hair, cloth hat and glasses are superimposed on an ant). The animators had footage of Woody in the sound recording booth, but mostly took their cues from the films themselves for the and body movements designing new software to govern the facial expressions.

The scene in which Z is being jostled about by his fellow workers and army ants walking in formation mimics a similar scene in Love & Death and there’s certainly something of the interactions between him and Diane Keaton from Sleeper in the moments when Z and Princess Bala are on the road to Insectopia. But it’s important note that although some of the shots resemble some of the earlier funny ones as does Z’s characterisation with the exception of that opening scene this is nothing much like a “Woody Allen” film.

It’s still a fairly traditional bit of Dreamworks digimation, with a slightly more adult age group in mind. Z jokes about erotic thoughts at one point, there’s torture, characters die horrifically and some of the battle scenes between the ants and termites have Starship Trooper levels of violence. But it’s still an action adventure film, with pretty montage sequence and romance. There are no interesting structural elements, it's not revealed that the ants are manifestations of a New Yorker’s psyche and there’s editing within scenes. This isn’t another David Frankel attempt at mimicry.

Some casting trivia: Nearly all of the main voice cast had appeared (or would later appear) in one of Woody’s films. Sharon Stone was the girl on the train in Stardust Memories and Sylvester Stallone was the hoodlum on the train in Bananas. Plus, there’s Another Woman’s Gene Hackman and Annie Hall’s Christopher Walken. Dan Aykroyd would later turn up in Curse of the Jade Scorpion. Jennifer Lopez hasn’t appeared yet, but given the rapidity of Woody’s releases, it can only be a matter of time.

Public Art Collections in North West England: Ruskin Library


Ruskin Library, originally uploaded by feelinglistless.

Museums We begin with an apology. I visited The Ruskin Library at Lancaster University last October and have no excuses for not talking about it before now, some five months later. The problem with being addicted to these kinds of adventures is that at some point they all begin to pile on top of one another and I was high on Hamlet and Hitchcock films at the time and then there was my birthday, then Christmas and then I began with The Wire then Woody Allen and somewhere in there, hammering out these meagre paragraphs became something being put off, a transparent dangling carrot expectantly awaiting extrapolation, as Alanis Morissette or Stephen Fry might say.

To begin: as Edward Morris describes in his book, Public Art Collections in North West England, John Ruskin, the nineteenth century critic and art historian was one of the seminal figures in the development of the academic study of culture, yet unfashionably for the early part of the last century he believed that the work could be understood on its own terms, that its deeper meaning was less useful than its aesthetic qualities. His philosophy is neatly summarised at the Wikipedia but largely amounts to the artist producing the best work he can and if the viewer likes it, that’s fine. If they don’t that’s fine too. But it’s still art. Also Gothic buildings rule! Ruskin’s also notable for falling in with the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of painters – his ex-wife Effie would later marry John Everett Millais and the pair were the subject of a number of paintings. He offered financial support to the likes of Burne-Jones all of which was somewhat dramatised in the BBC’s Desperate Romantics last year, with Tom Hollander and a beard as Ruskin.

John Howard Whitehouse was an electro-plate worker turned politician turned school master. Heralding from Birmingham, he founded a Ruskin Society there in 1896, and across the following half century, he amassed an impressive collection of books, manuscripts, drawings and paintings by Ruskin which by 1929 were being housed in a school he’d founded in the Isle of White. When he died in 1955, the collection passed to former pupil J.S. Deardon who also wrote extensively about Ruskin, his old master and the collection. When the school closed in 1996 due to local cuts in the education system, the collection was loaned out to Lancaster University due to its reputation for nineteenth-century studies and because of its proximity to Brantwood, were Ruskin spent twenty-eight years of his life (and a future stop on this trip around the galleries) [Update 21/01/2010: Stephen Wildman, Director and Curator, Ruskin Library clarifies my over simplification in the comments below].

Conceived by Richard MacCormac and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, this present building was constructed to house that collection which extends to over fifteen thousand items which are all teasingly held in glass walled rooms and can be seen through a glass floor in the basement. As you can see from the photograph, it’s quite the most extraordinary building, of the kind of Kevin McLeod might drool over on Grand Designs. MacCormac deliberately designed the building to resemble a chapel, which is does, one of the anti-rooms that might appear in a modern cathedral like Coventry. Though walking up to the building from the outside, along the perfectly measured, plain path brings to mind science fiction films; instead of nineteenth century papers it would have been quite proper to find a monolith, the architect from The Matrix films or a splinter from the fortress of solitude hidden within.

Stepping inside, you’re confronted with a central display case. The exhibition areas are in mezzanine floors on either side and the reception desk and administration office are off-handedly/unobtrusively placed on the left hand side (photos available at the library’s website). The library reading room, as I explained, is in a glassed off section at the front/back of the building but I was strangely unimpressed enough not to even ask if I could go and see; the long day was closing and I was content to simply enjoying the feeling of the place, the smell, which is presumably engendered by the ecclesiastical setting, which is odd considering my lack of appreciation for organised religion. I’m still awed by churches though. I’m a very confused/complex person.

Due to the brevity of the building, the collection isn’t on permanent public display. Which might also be why Edward only dedicates a page to it in his book. There is a rolling exhibition programme of selections in one area and what seems like commercial presentations in the other [they aren't, again, see comments]. At present there is a show of Ruskin’s Daguerreotypes of Tuscany which in the future will change to Mountain Glory: Ruskin’s ‘Modern Painters’ and the Swiss Alps. With an embarrassment of riches, but a small subject focus, the curatorial imperative must be to find relevant themes and also to try and put the artist into historical context, create a shop window for the collection. But that might also be why the library isn’t widely visited by the public; with lengthy exhibition periods there’s a certain lethargy, a get round to it approach to calling in. Which is a shame because it’s well worth a visit, for the building alone.

miniblog archive

  • Election 2010: I'm not seduced by Adonis | Stephen Tall http://ff.im/-iSPKn 

  • Born again: Liverpool returns to polls http://ff.im/-iSkI7

  • Robots, Augmented Reality and More – Video of The Building of the Future http://ff.im/-iRRXu 

  • Four Clips From Luc Besson’s Adele Blanc Sec http://ff.im/-iRRVT 

  • The Twitter News Instinct http://ff.im/-iRREx 

  • The Beast Below - Ratings http://ff.im/-iRJ71 

  • Nick Clegg encapsulates liberalism: "people should be free to do what they want but not when it harms other people." http://bit.ly/8ZEAdh 

  • On Allyn’s “The Eleventh Hour” Thoughts http://ff.im/-iRrif 

  • Q, Mojo attempt to make miserable freelancers' lives a bit more miserable http://ff.im/-iPW3w

  • Vince Cable attacks 'nauseating' businessmen over NI letter http://ff.im/-iPrVn 

  • 38 Degrees have added SaveBBC poster design. Reaction has been overwhelmingly negative. Quite right too. It's horrible. http://bit.ly/9UMpHH 

  • C4 lines up comedians for election night http://ff.im/-iM6jW 

  • BPI bloke suggests scanning; copying card, says he was joking http://ff.im/-iM4hE 

  • Indecision Internationale 2010: Cameron and On and On and On http://ff.im/-iM30F

  • The World Tonight at 40 http://ff.im/-iLVm1 

  • Orson Welles unfilmed script for Joseph Conrad’s “HEART OF DARKNESS” http://ff.im/-iLUbM

  • The Affectionate Punch http://ff.im/-iLSgQ 

  • How we laughed http://ff.im/-iLS12 

  • Reykjav√≠k nightlife and the wild wild west http://ff.im/-iLPYb 

  • Lib Dems alternative message on change http://ff.im/-iLMsJ

  • Rowntree's social poverty archives find new home at York University http://ff.im/-iLybm

  • James "Twiglet" Patterson's head sculpted in chocolate totally looks like a young Colin Baker. http://bit.ly/a3zdBZ

  • RT @Keris: Hurrah! RT @norock: Hurrah! Channel 4 doing a David Mitchell/Charlie Brooker alternative election night... (via @annawaits

  • And you think your life sucks [pics] http://ff.im/-iJfCn 

  • CLASSIC DOCTOR WHO: Season 13 / 'Gothic Who' Part 1 http://ff.im/-iJe8T 

  • Revenge of the Pixels http://ff.im/-iJcVm

  • Make sure you can vote! http://ff.im/-iJ8ru 

  • Something Is Missing From Hugo Nominations http://ff.im/-iJ4C1 

  • Digital economy bill: A quick guide http://ff.im/-iJ2sY 

  • What does the IP in ‘IP address’ stand for? Ask your MP http://ff.im/-iISbk

  • The Little League World Series’ Only Perfect Game http://ff.im/-iIjxc 

  • Today: 3D football 'a tantalizing travesty' http://ff.im/-iIdPV 

  • Special nightly episodes of The Now Show in run up to election. @MitchBenn etc will have their work cut out: http://bit.ly/d6uuwX 

  • Titchmarsh sparks 131 complaints http://ff.im/-iG0u0

  • BBC North: It's official! http://ff.im/-iFXVQ 

  • If only David Mitchell had done this after the first episode of The Bubble: http://bit.ly/avOxYw 

  • #spotify The (500) Days of Summer soundtrack is robustly tasteful Regina Spector, The Smiths, Feist and Carla Bruni http://bit.ly/2eSYTf 

  • Up to Eleven... http://ff.im/-iFsQV 

  • Electoral Reform Society says general election is already over in Merseyside http://ff.im/-iEJ0Q 

  • Corin Redgrave 1939-2010 http://ff.im/-iEIYD 

  • My iPhone has revolutionised my reading http://ff.im/-iEGML 

  • Top Trumps: Dr Who (PS2) £0.88 delivered @ Amazon http://ff.im/-iECGv 

  • The iPad is a really big iPod Touch http://bit.ly/cVHJIv

  • Losing the ability to just sit back and be immersed? http://ff.im/-iCT2E 

  • I Like You, Harold: Harold And Maude http://ff.im/-iCPBY 

  • “A nice firm pair of baps” – Prostitute Reviews http://ff.im/-iCOvx 

  • important artifacts and... http://ff.im/-iCqYt 

  • Time travelling LCH hijacker Eloi Cole's twitter feed http://bit.ly/a4Es0S (it may be fake)
  • The Beast Below.

    TV Just be self-reflexive for a moment, I notoriously failed to review most of the 2005 season for this blog, offering a single paragraph in reaction to the revelation at the close of the second episode The End of the World. I hope I’ve made up for that omission in the intervening years (look at that, it’s years) but if the thirty year old version of me (I was thirty?) was quite as vociferous as I am now about spending a few hours (a few?) after every episode trying to come to terms with what he’d just seen, for the purposes of looking for a way into this review, he might have noticed that The End of the World was Russell T Davies’s mission statement about what his era of Doctor Who was going to be like, the Britney, the funky aliens, the last of the timelords, the chips.

    Last week I suggested The Eleventh Hour was that mission statement; yet it wasn’t until rewatching the episode later that I realised that Moffat, the writer let us not forget of the editing awareness scenes in Forest of the Dead, wasn’t just offering a Doctor in transition, he was also offering a show in transition. Some have since criticised the Daviesian – oh err – Daviesesque – ugh – I’ll get back to you on that one – fundamentals on show there: the TARDIS hurtling to Earth, the scientific Chatroulette roundtable, the alien invasion subplot, the approach to the boyfriend, the ransacking of his season openers for the plotting, as though Moffat was losing his touch. But he’s too clever for that. Moffat was showing the series itself still cooking, and just like the Doctor as soon as his brain was in gear, the Moffat version of the show snapped into place too.

    Which means that in fact, The Beast Below, is Steven Moffat’s mission statement. Philosophically, narratively, we’re in completely different place. As Moffat explained in Confidential, Doctor Who isn’t just like a fairy tale, it is a fairy tale, something which got lost in most areas of the Davies era, inadvertently asserting itself when your reviewer was trying to justify why it was ok for a whole planet to be pulled halfway across the galaxy when some fans were dismissing it as a reason to hate an episode. He’s throwing around names like Roald Dahl and suggesting Amy is a Wendy figure being carried about by a Peter Pan figure, bedecking her in a pyjamas to prove the point. Wow. I mean wow. Under those circumstances, the hiring of Neil Gaiman to write an episode next series doesn’t look quite so eccentric (and we’ll talk about those influences in a moment).

    This is a deeply held belief in what the show should be like, a belief Moffat's had for over ten years if not longer. We know that because as I suspected when I reproduced sections of it for this very blog, he talked about what he wanted to do with the show in some detail ten years ago in Doctor Who Magazine, ironically in the same round table as Russell T Davies. Some key quotes: “I just want him out of those TARDIS doors and having adventures. Us kids want Narnia, not the wardrobe”, “The way you’d know you’d got it right would be if the 11 year-olds all jumped up and down and said it was the best show ever and all the sadder Doctor Who fans muttered that it was no longer serious adult drama like it was when they were 11” and “He should be forty-plus and weird looking – the kind of wacky grandfather that kids know on sight to be secretly one of them.”

    With the exception of the notes on his age (though as we know Moffat was looking for someone older before Matt walked into the room) those few quotes sum up The Beast Below. We’re barely in the TARDIS – when Amy isn’t floating in space in a shot that looked like it was just trailer fodder but was actually in the episode along with the voiceover – the Doctor’s already left the box and into the adventure before she’s noticed he’s gone. For reasons we’ll talk about in a moment the story was as simple a story as we’ve seen so far but infinitely complex in that way that feeds a child’s imagination and the Doctor is no longer the omnipresent figure and that slightly giddy kiddy madness has largely returned to his eyes of the kind we’ve only rarely seen in him since he danced in his new shoes in San Francisco. He’s not always in control, he doesn’t always know what’s going on, he sometimes makes mistakes, just like children and those of us who are basically still children. He’s had a return to innocence.

    And so has the show. Not often since the Hartnell era, and certainly not since 2005 have we seen a narrative that it could so easily be accommodated on a series of Give-A-Show slides. Something along the lines of “The TARDIS lands on Starship UK!”, “The Doctor and Amy meet a crying girl. It’s an oppressive regime!”, “Liz 10 is the queen!”, “The Doctor and Amy fall through a tunnel!”, “The Doctor and Amy are inside a space whale!”, “The space whale is being used to move the starship through the stars!”, “The Doctor and Amy free the space whale from torture!” and “The starship continues on its way!” Ditching time travel as a plot-device for the very first time, and even after being split up initially (for Amy to receive the vital clue which will lead to her epic win at the climax) much of the episode has the Doctor lead Amy (and us) through the adventure, dropping Pinocchio-like into the stomach of the beast, meeting Liz 10 and receiving the revelation about her along the way.

    In other words, The Beast Below is a picture book, the scene changes like a child turning the page, offering a constant stream of surprises and unusual images, Starship UK with its collection of sky-scrapers itself suggesting even an old fashioned pop up picture book. To dismiss it as having a "weak story" is to miss the point entirely. Which isn’t to say that Moffat is only being influenced by children’s stories. The market place brought to mind the London Below from Neverwhere; the final image of the star whale pure Terry Pratchett (and Pat Mills if you’re in the mood for some Who apocrypha). And whilst arguably Moffat’s own stories previously have suggested similar images and ideas and with a hat-tip to Paul Cornell the fate of the Family of Blood, it’s never been quite so on the nose, quite so specifically trying to speak to children, hoping against hope that the adults are enjoying it too.

    Admittedly some of this is similar to Davies’s The Sarah Jane Adventures with its clown shaped Pied Piper and black-cloaked Trickster so perhaps I shouldn’t really get myself too carried away in trying to define an era on the basis of a single episode (especially with those photos of a football shirted James Cordon knocking about). Indeed there was something of the Mona Lisa about Sophie “Alison from Scream of the Shalka” Okenado’s gun-toting cockney Liz 10 except far better performed and with a post-racial subtext to her monarchy. But I don’t remember SJA being quite so complex with its political subtext; the big white buttons with “Protest” or “Forget” printed on them which turned out to be an apt satire on the political process or the Smilers whose simplistic happy face/sad face/angry face approach to everything is terrifying but also redolent of the nanny state.

    Perhaps the difference is that Moffat is underscoring fairy tale elements which have always been there, but rather than hiding them in colder technology (sonic screwdriver as magic wand) he’s making them obvious, aggressively fantastical. At no point in the episode was it explained exactly why the country was being administered by these fairground throwbacks. The question was asked, I think, but we were simply left to accept the status quo, why the sometimes happiness, sometimes not, patrol had such a hold on the population, teaching the children even when a real teacher or plasma screen with a computer generated Melvyn Bragg or Matt Baker (as might have been the option in the Davies era) would be the more logical solution. Because in fairy tales we don’t question talking mirrors and poison apples; they just are. Build a space station on the back of giant star whale? Alright then.

    Plus, none of the characters in The Sarah Jane Adventures (with the exception of the titular mistress herself) has developed quite as much as Amy has already. Like Moffat’s version of the show, she’s at once a child but also an adult; marriage is awaiting her, but she’s almost desperate to stay in the TARDIS, even to the point of risking all on a hunch. Our previous nu-Who companions enjoyed their journey as a kind of privilege, something bestowed at the drop of a TARDIS key; Amy has the self awareness to know that she has to prove herself, explain effectively why the Doctor needs her. It’s somewhat like Donna suggesting that 10th required her to be his moral conscience, but Donna would never have made that big speech at the close of this episode (probably because he would have got there before her). She’s both entirely real and totally mysterious. Wow, again.

    Then, right at the end, Moffat curiously evokes The End of the World himself. But instead of Rose being disturbed by the Doctor as she looks out into the immensity of space, it’s the Doctor ruminating on his failure to see the details which were right in front of Amy. I thought initially we were supposed to assume that he had been testing his new companion, her moral code, but instead he seems like a man who understands what he’s lost in this regeneration, that the human elements of his tenth persona which inescapably led to his doom have been divested and he knows he’s returned to having an alien perspective. When he clumsily embraces Amy, it’s as though he’s trying to literally absorb her humanity. Then its off to the TARDIS again and Moffat commits another surprise as like the early Hartnell era we effectively get the next episode teaser as part of the story, Churchill, Daleks and all (oh yays) because like children, no sooner have we read one story, we want to be enchanted by the next one straight away.

    Next Week: Doctor Who sprouts its own Downfall-like meme.

    Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: The Imposters (1998)

    Then A ropey ex-rental copy from 1998 bought at the Lark Lane Flea Market at the old police station early this decade. I was attracted by the cast, by the fact that it was the second film directed by Stanley Tucci and I’d enjoyed his first, Big Night, very much and the quote on the cover, from Empire Magazine, “a genuine success … a package of unexpected delights”.

    Now The Imposters, the story of a pair of out of work actors who become mixed up in some mad-cap, crazy adventures aboard an ocean liner seems to be Tucci and Oliver Platt’s attempt to recreate the old Hollywood double acts and 30s screwball comedies, primarily Laurel and Hardy but using modern (well modern in the late 90s) film editing and techniques.

    We’re in Purple Rose of Cairo territory with a sprinkling of Grand Hotel as a great ensemble turn up for a series of scenes. Which is rather the problem; including the double act no one has too distinct a personality, everyone is symbolic of a certain type of old actor and any sympathy we have depends on how much we like the given actors. Even in the 30s, screenwriters, who had predominantly come from theatre knew which buttons to press in their audience.

    Frankly, I don’t know which film Empire were watching, but The Imposters is a film length jokeoid. It has all of the constituent parts of a comedy without actually being funny. The performances are good, as is the art direction and it’s shot really well, but somewhere in editing the timing has dropped out, so scene after scene passes in which you can see what the joke is but you’re not actually laughing, and the less laughing you’re doing the more disappointed you become.

    Initially I thought it was the PAL conversion on the video which was at fault (sometimes when films were transferred to video they would be sped up slightly annihilating the slender margin for error in comedy) or I was in the wrong mood but in truth it’s because Tucci can’t quite decide how to pitch the comedy so everything becomes too over emphatic, rather like the original version of Don’t Drink The Water. Plus the best comedy films have the capacity to entertain no matter your mood.

    Woody’s cameo is in the third scene as a neurotic theatre writer/producer who auditions the two actors. Predictably, perhaps, his is the funniest moment as he watches startled as the two actors murder his script, then rudely takes a phone call from his wife in the middle and has an argument over financing whilst our “heroes” are trying to act. Perhaps his participation was reciprocation for Tucci appearing in Deconstructing Harry. Either way, it’s an enactonism which works better than most of the rest of the film.

    Here’s the trailer. You have to earn Oliver Platt in a dress, Stanley.