MKS. Five Stars.

Music Having missed the MKS Scala concert on Thursday due to problems of geography and well that's it, I did enjoy vicariously following proceedings via social media. There are naughty phone cam videos in the usual places, not that I obviously condone such things, but one of them is from the edge of the stage and its like you're actually there. Nevertheless, let us pause momentary and stand in awe at The Guardian's rare five star review:
"MKS, as they're now known, stride on stage with a crowd-pleasing double-header: the surly lope of Overload and the yearning sweep of Run for Cover, the two biggest hits from their 2001 debut, One Touch. These are reprised right down to their original Top of the Pops dance moves – a leg-cross here, an insouciant spin there. But where the Sugababes of 2001 were quintessentially teenage in their world-weariness, MKS perform with the experience of grown women who have been through the wars. Their well-documented interpersonal drama is an unspoken backdrop: when Donaghy sings the parts of her 2002 replacement, Heidi Range, on Freak Like Me and a serenely redemptive Stronger, she's cheered lustily, and it feels like catharsis for her and the audience alike."
Note that The Guardian are still posting these things under the Sugababes tag. With any luck, that will have to be changed by default.

Nicholas Briggs' The Dalek Contract & The Final Phase.

Audio Apologies again for the lateness of this opinion indeed two opinions since I’m writing about two Big Finish releases together, but with my plan to watch all of Doctor Who grasping towards the Key To Time season a few weeks ago, I decided to wait and listen to them within sequence providing the opportunity to see just how authentic these new episodes are in comparison the era they’re meant to be emulating. As I might have expected, and as I’d assumed based on the rest of the newer season, the answer veers wildly between not at all and quite a bit and often in the same scene. But as I’ve discussed in previous months, this season has been less about recreating a 1970s tea time and more about offering Mary Tamm the opportunity to add colour and complexity to her incarnation of Romana, which this certainly does.

Cuthbert, the Whoniverse’s Rupert Murdoch analogy is back and continuing his time experiments, this time aided as the title to The Dalek Contract suggests by the classic era pepperpots, who the audience, the Doctor, Romana and K9 all know have a different agenda, not that we or they could convince him of it. Whatever he’s planning is so huge that it’s shifted the planet Proxima Major out of its usual orbit, making the atmosphere barely habitable for its inhabitants who’re either in Dalek internment camps or split into rival factions fighting for the future of the planet. As The Final Phase begins, our heroes are right in the thick of it and the fate of all reality hangs in the balance with just a couple of Time Persons, a robot dog and a blue box holding things together.

In reality, and there is a lot of talking about reality, there isn’t an awful lot which is new here. Much like the first Cuthbert two parter, this is pretty generic stuff, but like the first Cuthbert two parter that’s not necessarily in a bad way. As with those stories, and for reasons we’ll return to in the next paragraph, this is comfort Who, something which purposefully takes few risks with its storytelling and leaves the listener with a (toothy) grin at the end. But there are moments when this listener groaned at that or the other reveal, the Cuthbert and the Daleks plans, so carefully withheld for much of the story, are finally spelled out, not least because the narrative prevarication leading up to them means that there simply isn’t enough time to properly investigate what could have been their nonetheless potentially interesting implications.

Which leads the other usual caveat, that as is also so often the case with Doctor Who, it’s the incidental pleasures which make this worthwhile. For one thing, we finally have K9 versus the Daleks for the first time in the franchise’s history (I think) after Terry Nation apparently balked at the idea for Destiny of the Daleks and the near miss in The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End and it is a joyous piece of acting from John Leeson and Briggs which just about makes up for us not being able to have seen the superimposed laser beam taking pot shots at some silvery or gold plywood on screen. Plus a sudden upswing in the fourth Doctor’s compassion, something which I’ve discovered is largely absent from his television portrayal in this era, which tends towards the big picture at the expense of smaller acts of kindness.

But melancholically, for the most part these four episodes are about Romana’s reason for staying in the TARDIS at the end of their moribund mission to collect the space trinket and travel the universe with the Doctor, bridging the gap between seasons sixteen and seventeen. This is one of Mary Tamm’s best performances as she comes to terms with the fact that for all their needling, she’s grown to respect the Doctor quite a bit and even if their flight from the Black Guardian makes it extremely difficult for her to return to Gallifrey, that she’d quite like to knock around with him for a while. Unfortunately we won’t now get to enjoy those adventures. Would they have taken the opportunity to hint towards her fate as outlined in the Gallifrey spin-offs, of the Pandora influence? We’ll never know.

Similarly, as you might expect given the richness of his characterisation we may never discover the fate of Cuthbert either, which must certaif inly have been a plan for future seasons, unless he returns to fight some later incarnation of the Doctor or Tom and Lalla ever record together however unlikely that always is. At a time when the new series seems entirely disinterested with the idea of having too many arch enemies or megalomaniac antagonists, David Warner’s mogul has demonstrated that it is possible to produce a figure which is a match for the Doctor and with an injection of social commentary. His entire disinterest in anyone but himself even to the point of persistently getting Romana’s name wrong will be familiar to anyone who anyone who keeps up with the gossip websites.

So here we are at the end of another season of Fourth Doctor stories and as I predicted they’ve been a mixed blessing in that they’ve shown that the first Romana is a character which can be extended beyond the season she was invented for but who’s longevity has tragically been cut short. Asked to choose, it’s the standalone stories which have offered the most pleasure, and the memory of sitting in Starbucks hooting into a Gingerbread Latte during The Auntie Matter is still very special. Who would have thought, back in the late 70s, that thirty years later the same actors would be recreating the same characters for an appreciative public and in some ways utilising material of even greater complexity, wit and intelligence and that we’d be able to enjoy it miles away from our living rooms?

Doctor Who: The Dalek Contract and Doctor Who: The Final Phase by Nicholas Briggs are on sale now. Review copies supplied.

[Incidentally Big Finish have recently announced that the first fifty of their releases, from the turn of the millenium, are to be permanently reduced, cds £5 (while stocks last) and downloads £2.99. The bargains start here.]

Emma.

Geography Julia Sawalha on Bath:
"Goodness, I love all of it. I don't have a particular favourite. So many areas in Bath have something special to offer. The city has an extremely calming and healing effect on me."

Before the movie ...



Film A message from Celine and Jesse ...

WHO 50: 1999:
The Curse of the Fatal Death.



TV Hugh Grant. In his third ever production notes for Doctor Who Magazine, in issue 343, the one with Christopher Eccleston's interview in it, Russell T Davies reveals that they offered the part to Hugh Grant first, knowing full well that he or at least his agent would turn it down, but so that they’d at least tried. I subsequently heard that it's become a tradition and happens every time they have to cast the thing again.

Why would Hugh Grant be at the top of Doctor Who’s casting other than that he’s a brilliant actor?

The Curse of the Fatal Death. Because of the two minutes he spends playing the dying Doctor in The Curse of the Fatal Death.

Up until that point, Steven Moffat’s affectionate parody of the show’s tropes oscillates wildly between sitcom and something, which is a close approximation of what the classic series was actually like, especially during the Adams/Williams years, especially Roman Atkinson’s performance as the Doctor.

When the regeneration sequence begins, much of the comedy is in who they’ve got to fill in. During the wilderness years both Richard E Grant and Jim Broadbent were both touted as possibles and so it is of course hilarious to see them both finally playing it, albeit for laughs.

Then, as I remember shouting at the time, fuck me, it’s Hugh Grant.

Hugh Grant in 1999 was a massive star. Thanks to his tabloid-bating shenanigans he hadn’t been in films for a while, but the release of Notting Hill had returned him to pre-eminence and now here he was playing the Doctor.

Then, as I remember noticing at the time, fuck me, he’s taking this seriously.

Which he is. After emerging from the smoke, he’s suddenly giving one of the franchise’s best performances as the Doctor, making the most of the comedy prop, with rebellious chemistry with Julia Sawalha playing his wife.

Like all the best Doctors, but unlike either Grant or Broadbent, we instantly believe that he’s the Doctor, the same man fans had been watching since 1963. Watching back again for the purposes of writing this, it’s an interesting transition.

Atkinson’s very good at playing at being the Doctor.

Grant just is the Doctor.

Then just as the joy of that begins to sink in, he’s shot, he’s dying, back slumped against the TARDIS and he’s breaking our heart and the whole production is supporting that.

For a moment it looks like it’s going to once again be a parody of these kinds of scenes, ripping the piss out of Androzani or Logopolis.

Then somehow it, just, isn’t. Jonathan Pryce helps a lot. He dials down his performance as the Master from full on Ainley to the Delgado who fights to save the Doctor’s life in The Mind of Evil.

Moffat’s script is offering jewels too: “Look after the universe for me. I’ve put a lot of work into it.” If the Doctor ever does leave us, I can’t imagine a more fitting final line than that.

It’s still heartbreaking even knowing what’s to come.

Then he “dies” and Julia gets that speech, which she plays with much the same intensity as the haranguing her character gives Michael Maloney during In The Bleak Midwinter about what really matters. This speech:

“Doctor, listen to me. You can't die, you're too... You're too nice. Too brave, too kind and far, far too silly. You're like Father Christmas! The Wizard of Oz! Scooby Doo! And I love you very much. And we all need you and you simply cannot die!”

Which is also a blue print for how Moffat’s crafted his version of the character all these years later.

After that, Curse returns to the silliness of before, but for these brief moments, proper Doctor Who returned to our screens once again, with the best actor in the role we’ll never, probably, properly have.

Unless, of course, Moffat and the gang have asked him again, and for some bizarre reason he's said yes.

Imagine that. Hugh Grant.

Gurgi. Gollum. Gurgi.

Film As some of you might be aware, I'm in the process of watching my way through all of Disney's official animated films in release order, the first time I'm seeing most of them since I was a child, if I saw them back then at all what with video not having been invented and the nearest cinemas bus rides away. 

Tonight was The Black Cauldron and frankly the production stories are arguably more exciting than the film itself. But there are other oddities for fans of other film franchises notably when the character of Gurgi is introduced. Watch this clip now:



He's Gollum from Lord of the Rings isn't he? Hasn't Andy Serkis basically been doing a complex pastiche of that for over a decade?

Embargoed.

TV Since the midnight news is embargoed and you know what it is anyway, here's a placeholder. I retweeted someone else talking about it and Simon said this:


At which point I realised, the one television frontier which Doctor Who hasn't lately just but would be remarkable despite its atheistic tendencies would be a special episode of Songs of Praise.

 The shopping list:

Filmed in Welles Cathedral.

Presented by Aled Jones.

Special guest: Katherine Jenkins (Abigail's Song)

Hymns:

The Old Rugged Cross
Abide With Me
To Be A Pilgrim
The Rings of Akhaten suite (pass out the hymn sheets, prime Wells's choir, Jenkins and Jones as the soloists).

Guests:
I've no idea.  Is anyone related to the show particularly religious?

Sugababes over.

Music Jade's given an interview with Digital Spy which she says the "Sugababes" are "pretty much done".:
""I don't even know if the band stuff is going to happen again, if I'm completely honest.

"I think Amelle wants to do her own solo stuff, Heidi is doing a Happy Days musical... I think we're pretty much done."
You could argue the "Sugababes" were done as soon as Get Sexy was released, but for some unknown reason it reached number two in the charts so hey. But the best bit is towards the end...
"I would love to do a giant tour of all the Sugababes, old lineup and new lineup," she said. "That would be awesome, it would sell out.

"That's easy for me to say though, I don't know how that would go down [with the other girls]. But I'm definitely up for it."
Bless. Although, they said Fleetwood Mac would never tour again, let alone have a concert in which they played through their various line-ups so stranger things have happened. But can you imagine the fights over who gets to sing the tracks from Taller In Many Ways?  Bless.

Updated  06/08/2013 Siobhan's been asked.
"‘People have to remember, especially for me, I have only ever worked with Mutya and Keisha, that’s my focus and that’s what I enjoy,’ she said. ‘There will be no tour together.’"
Well of course not. But wait there's also this:
‘If I’m completely honest I wasn’t really a fan,’ she said. ‘For me Sugababes was all about the vocal, not that there’s anything wrong with their vocal in terms of how their harmonies were put together. [...] I just wasn’t bothered really. I was busy working on my own stuff.’
You and the rest of us Siobhan.

Updated 07/08/2013  Mutya's been asked.
“That’s frigging hilarious, as it would never happen. Just no”
Just Keisha left now to press the big button with the X on it.

The Scarlet Empress.

History Deutsche Welle explores the history of the Russian-Germans, a history which began with Catherine The Great:
"On July 22nd, 1763, a young woman sat down at a neat little table in the cabinet of Peterhof Palace close to Petersburg, got out a quill and signed a ‘ukaz', a decree. "We, Catherine the second, Empress and Autocrat of all the Russians at Moscow, Kiev, Vladimir … We permit all foreigners to come into Our Empire, in order to settle in all the governments, just as each one may desire." The Manifesto is now kept in Russia's state archive.

"While the offer was directed at all foreigners, Catherine was targeting Germans in particular. Born in 1729 as Sophie Friederike von Anhalt-Zerbst-Domburg in Stettin in Pommerania, Prussia, the tsarina was herself a German national. Afer a coup d'etat and the murder of her husband Peter III. (who was born Peter Ulrich von Holstein-Gottorp and a German prince himself), Catherine came to power in the summer of 1762."

John le Carré on his life and books.

Books The BBC Proms interval interview on Monday was an interview with John le Carre about The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and his later work, with actor John Shrapnel reading extracts. It's a relatively unique move, video of the whole thing has been uploaded to YouTube:



It's also longer than the version which appeared on the radio and includes the audience Q&A at the end. So that's what a Proms Plus audience looks like ...

Gobbling.

Our Lady of the Flowers.

Film Back in 2002, The Guardian's Edmund White considered French novelist, playwright, poet, essayist, and political activist Jean Genet's love of film and how it impacted on his work:
"Genet kept coming back imaginatively to the cinema and/or the village in his work. By the time in the early 1940s when he was working on Our Lady of the Flowers, his first novel, he had already written several plays and at least one film script. (They have been lost, and we know little about their contents.) In Our Lady, much of the action occurs in the village where a lonely, poetic boy - who will grow up to be Divine, the drag queen and prostitute - is in love with a snake tamer. There are ecstatic descriptions of people and places right out of Genet's village life."

Another post about the thing.



Music BBC London News ran a piece about MKS this evening and it's now up on the BBC website.

The fact of its existence is what's interesting - there's not much new in the interview itself ("Unfinished business" "The album has lots of genres" etc).

 With the rather natty live version in the background it mostly seems like one of those pieces that sometimes crops up on local television about an unsigned band.

There's been a sense right the way through this about starting small and creating word of mouth rather than making the All Saint's mistake of going big and getting it wrong.

But they still look happy, which is good.  Plus there's a sense of reality to the thing, especially fashion wise, which runs counter to the other girl groups.

About the only grumbles I have are that the pre-0rder for the single is only at iTunes, which I don't use because it slows my computer for a crawl and the lead in time to the release is so long and thanks to the Soundcloud preview there are already rubbish pastiches available as this Spotify playlist demonstrates:



Some of the instrumental versions sound like a mash-up with St Elmos Fire (which I love also) but not in a good way.  They're all available on Amazon and sucking up potential profits.  Who buys these things?

Hyspero.

Nature The habitats section of the BBC Nature website, collects together clips from programmes depending on which deserts, mountains, forests and oceans, even brownfield land:
"Brownfield sites are best described as derelict and disused industrial or commercial land. Areas of abandoned factories and old railway lines are becoming a refuge for a growing number of species. Once all the human activity has died down, wildlife starts to move back into these undisturbed areas. Brownfield sites can contain a mosaic of different habitats and niches, providing opportunities for a wide variety of animals and insects, from toads and snakes to dragonflies and rare bees. Plants can also thrive on the poor soils, from purple rosebay willowherb to yellow groundsels and dandelions."
Excerpts from Springwatch and Bill Oddie Goes Wild ensue.

Jennifer Lawrence meets Jeff Bridges. Star struck.



"Does it rhyme with 'The Shmood'?"

A viewing order for all the episodes in the modern Doctor Who, including both Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures.

Dalek Wedding

TV Readers with long memories will remember that back in 2010, the halcyon days when Dalek and Fear Year were still set in the future, I constructed a viewing list for all of the contemporary episodes of Doctor Who. It was never perfect and ultimately failed because I became very exercised about where Planet of the Dead was supposed to go, something which I still think is the nuWho equivalent of the UNIT dating controversy. Nevertheless, some people apparently found it quite useful for this or that reason.

Well, its 2013, the 50th anniversary of the series and as you will have gathered in the midst of watching my way through all of Doctor Who, hopefully before the special episode is broadcast on 23rd November, usually a whole story a day. Oh yes. I'm half way through The Key To Time season. For quite a while I wondered if I was going to bother with nuWho when it became apparent that of course I should, but what also of the spin-offs? My expectation is that I will if I have the time and with that in mind I decided I needed to put together a watch list for that too which favoured the pre-Moffat intricate contemporary chronology of the show.

And so, armed with AHistory and the TARDIS Datacore, I set about putting together the following. As you can see this wasn't as easy as the original because of the time travel episodes of the mother series, especially in series five, oddly, where the order of the contemporary episodes is all over the place. Narrative sense prevailed with the understanding that a three month shoot backwards or forwards should be treated in the same way as 5 billion years or whatever. Oh and I know the numbering is a bit strange but I think it makes some sense without having to mess about too many decimal points and letter codes.

There are a few other anomalies. I decided to put Children of Earth after The Waters of Mars (flipping the transition order), suggesting that the reason the Doctor's awol is because he's wrapped up in his own issues. Which adds a certain irony to Gwen's speech about the Doctor in episode five. He's not looking down on you. He's nowhere to be seen. There's also the bonkers insanity of mixing Torchwood's s2, SJA's s1 and Doctor Who's 4th in together, which is how AHistory has it, thanks to internal dating and seasons. We'll see how it works when we get around to it.

Also, Torchwood's Miracle Day still doesn't logically fit anywhere but AHistory rather heroically spends about three pages explaining away continuity errors in the show and the vagueness of some of the dates in Doctor Who itself to suggest that it happens between Night Terrors and The God Complex, with the assumption that the Doctor deliberately drops his friends off after the Miracle has ended. Which does mean you have to sit through Miracle Day half way through s6 of Who, but at least you can do so in the knowledge that some half decent episodes are coming up in your future.

If you spot any other problems, do let me know through the usual channels, especially if I've forgotten something really important.  I've ignored prequels in the main, but Night and the Doctor are there even if the placements are complete guesses.  Does Music of the Spheres count?  Does the National Television Awards 2011 sketch? I suppose they do, but well, Gwen's face in Torchwood's End of the Road.  I haven't included any of the other prequels and whatnot, but there's a list of them here.  Also if you want to know what happened before Night of the Doctor, I've also compiled an Eighth Doctor chronology here.  Anyway ...

Volkswagen Beetle.

Technology Under the sea...
"A convertible shark cage may be a complete oxymoron, but Volkswagen and partners have built one for Discovery Channel's upcoming Shark Week. More than just a stationary exhibit, the shark cage is a functioning watercraft with impressive capabilities. Gizmag talked to Luke Tipple, the marine biologist, shark diving expert and TV personality responsible for building and driving the craft, to find out more about what it's like to scooter around shark-infested waters in a skeletal Beetle ragtop."
Bubble. Bubble.

Aja'ib.

Books Folklore and Mythology Electronic Texts is a (very) old school web page hosted at the University of Pittsburgh, which lists hundreds of folk tales from across the world in a big long lists with links to the actual stories throughout.

They're from a range of sources and translated by retired professor, Professor D. L. Ashliman. Here's one about choosing a wife through the use of dairy products:
A young herdsman wanted to get married. Now he knew three sisters. All were equally beautiful, and he liked them all equally well, so he could not decide which of them he should choose as his bride. His mother noticed this, and she said to him, "Let me give you some good advice. Invite all three sisters to eat with you at the same time. Serve them some cheese and pay attention to what they do with it."

The son followed this advice. He invited the girls to his house and served them cheese. The first one greedily ate her piece, complete with the rind, so that not a trace of it was left. The second one, to the contrary, cut off the rind so thick that she wasted a lot of good cheese. The third one neatly peeled off just the right amount of rind.

The herdsman told his mother what had happened with the cheese, and she said, "Choose the third one. She will bring you luck."

That is what he did, and as long as he lived, he never regretted having followed his mother's advice.