Detained.



TV "A mixed reaction so far then." The parish circular's letters page this month is almost completely filled with reader commentary on Class, mainly the first three episodes and it's fair to say that as often the case with the mains series, the first impressions run from very positive to utter despair. The general consensus is that it isn't as good as either SJA, Torchwood or its obvious source Buffy The Vampire Slayer, barely feels like it's set in the Doctor Who universe, runs a bit rote and generic, all criticisms which even appear to an extent in one of the positive reviews, albeit to give the writer something to defend against.  It's notable that DWM itself isn't carrying reviews of individual episodes, although that was also true of the other spin-offs which in some cases even waited until a shiny disc release.  Perhaps they've decided to wait until the television broadcast.

Here we are at episode six so it's about time to grab the confession stone and say how I'm really feeling about the show.  Despite being relatively positive about the first three episodes, the subsequent two parter simply didn't work for me and numerous problems are piling up in the negative column.  Apart from Tanya and Quill, I simply don't like any of the characters enough to make the emotional connection of wanting to see what happens next with them.  Also, what's the point of setting the thing in the Doctor Who universe if you're not going to make a virtue of its rich heritage?  For a show call Class, only two and a half episodes have been about the school with its panoply of story opportunities.  None of the actual plots have been that interesting and almost all of them feel like a rehash of something else without  the necessary clever spin.

There's nothing especially wrong with doing a detention episode; most teen shows set in high schools get around to it eventually.  As here, they tend to be a way of knocking out a cheap installment because it's all set in a single place be it a library or classroom, and in putting all of your characters in a room and forcing them to talk, you can effect change in the relationships going forward.  One of the best episodes of Dawson's Creek was their detention episode, Detention, a loving homage of The Breakfast Club (as these things usually are) in which all of the emotions which had been bubbling under rose to the surface.  My So-Called Life also managed to sneak one into its slender episode count and even though that has Rayanne inadvertently handcuffed to the wrong bed instead, the results were the same as the friends rally together.

The set up is relatively ingenious, with the aforementioned sentient mineral forcing everyone to go a bit Edge of Destruction oscillating between blind panic and wanting to murder each other in between confessing their darkest thoughts.  In most shows, a longer lead time manufactures incident which leads to such thoughts amongst the regular characters which will inevitably spill out due to being stuck in a confined space together all day.  Here the stone force them to confess their secrets in a much shorter time with a modicum of plausibility.  Transferring them all to another dimension without an exit creates an extra level of claustrophobia, just like a prison, of being stuck in a place for an eternity with people you can only barely stand the sight of.  Or travelling to London and back on by train as is the case with me once a month at the moment.

But as anyone who's watched large section of the Davison era without the dvd commentary turned on will know, watching people who say they're friends but really aren't bicker incessantly isn't especially entertaining, especially if they're not particularly witty by design.  However much you can withstand Detained presumably depends on how much you're invested in the characters and since as we've discussed Tanya's about my limit, I could really care less about the emotional lives of the others especially since the confessions they make aren't particularly revolutionary or unexpected.  The writer is so desperate to see his characters in conflict, he daren't have April and Ram confess actual love for each other and give us a warm tickle and a reason to root for them.  In his universe, everything has to be hard.

Plus as we've discussed, because the audience is having to constantly fill in the blanks in some of these friendships the emotions wrought here don't ever quite hit as hard as they should.  When Tanya describes how she feels about herself in relation to the older teens, we haven't seen this lot working as a group for long enough across these episodes to see the dynamics of that unfold.  They only realised they were friends at the end of #1, they're barely together in #2 and the structures of #3, #4 and #5 keep all of them relatively isolated.  We haven't even had a simple scene of all of them hanging in a coffee shop or in the school canteen.  In rushing to hit these emotional beats, the writer hasn't done the necessary narrative spade work, so interested is he in making Quill the most autonomous and interesting figure in a show which should be about the kids.

Which leads us to next week which looks to be mainly a spectacular Quill showcase which will explain (a) why she locked them in detention and (b) where the budget of this episode went much as Midnight then Turn Left did back in the day.  We've returned to what looks like double banking, folks.  Again, it seems like another episode not utilising the school rendering the notion of setting it in Coal Hill entirely superfluous.  See above.  Hopefully it'll be anomalously amazing even if it has nothing much to do with what we expected this series to be about given the Doctor's own mission statement right up front.  Will we finally meet the Senior Partners School Governors and will they turn out to be some classic Doctor Who monster in an attempt to steer the ship back into port?  My money's on the Monoids.

Soup Safari #74: Potato and Leek at Tate Britain.







Lunch. £6.65. Djanogly CafĂ© at Tate Britain, Millbank, Westminster, London SW1P 4RG. Phone: 020 7887 8825. Website.

The Mother of All.

Politics At just the moment when it feels like politically the world is going to crap and I'm going to be spending my forties wondering exactly what went wrong, I decided to kick against the doors of democracy, metaphorically rather than actually and visit the Houses of Parliament. The initial plan for yesterday was to walk first through Tate Britain's hard chronological display of British art then have a wander around the local area.  But after eating dinner at the Pizza Express in Millbank and realising what time it was, this quickly transmuted into dashing up to Parliament so I could stand outside Westminster Clock at six o'clock and listen live to Big Ben and his bongs, which I've heard over the radio so many times after PM on Radio 4.

By the time I'd reached Parliament this had turned into a question "I wonder if you can visit the public gallery in the Commons?" which after speaking to a policeman on the gate and then a steward who handed me a giant laminated green ticket found an answer in the positive.  While the chamber is in session it's entirely possible to simply ask for entry and assuming they believe you to be of good character, carrying no knives or pepper spray, visit our key place of government and watch proceedings live.  So after standing on the street and listening to the epic spectacle of the massive clock singing, which was just as a breathtaking as I'd always suspected, I joined the short queue snaking downwards to the reception were the security checks are carried out.

After my belongings had passed through the x-ray machine and I'd stepped through the metal detector, I took the short pathway up to the larger building and not predicting the geography stepped straight into Westminster Hall.  You know the slight moment of disorientation you feel whenever you unexpectedly see a famous person in a context other than on a screen or in a photography or both?  My gasp was loud enough to echo around its walls.  "Westminster Hall!" I said out loud, arms outstretched.  "Westminster Hall!"  A steward approached and asked if I needed any help.  I told her I was visiting the public gallery of the Commons and she gave me a green slip on which I would declare my intention to disrupt proceeding and directed me towards the large steps at the far end.

Anyone who's seen the innumerable documentaries filmed in this space and The Complete Walk's  version of Richard II will know just how vast this space is, and unlike religious architecture, almost unbroken by furniture with the potential to diminish the spectacle.  Even having seen the former at state events, it's impossible to imagine its stone walls ever being full.  There were perhaps at least a hundred people in there last night milling around, waiting for various events and yet this looked like a small gathering.  As the Parliament website explains, the hall has been rebuilt and restored numerously since opening in 1097 and the result is frankly awesome and impossible to describe as this paragraph has demonstrated.

The walk to those stairs towards the chamber appeared to take little time.  Unfortunately, only as I reached the bottom step did I realise I needed to visit the toilet and found myself asking the two policemen with large rifles (only the second time I think I've seen guns in real life) where the bathroom was.  At the other end of the hall near the gift shop which meant I'd be making that walk a couple more times.  On the upside it also meant I visited the gift shop and bought a jar of jam and a Christmas present.  It's worth pointing out that this shambling about always happens when I visit tourist spots.  Usually when I reach a Tate or V&A it's at least half an hour before I even look at a painting.

Back across the hall, up the stairs and some more stairs and yet more stairs, more security checks and eventually I'm standing in the public gallery at the House of Commons.  The seating is slightly disorientating.  The front couple of rows aren't accessible from the back but it takes a little bit of mental somersaulting to notice and so you're stuck searching around the seating area trying to find a way through.  Eventually I took a seat at one corner with an angle across the all too familiar commons chamber, which is protected by large sheets of what looks like bullet proof glass that also has a noise cancelling effect.  Fortunately audio from the space is piped through speakers on the back of the benches, near invisible behind brass grills which seem otherwise decorative.

There are screens fixed to the wall above the public gallery relaying the feed which also is also broadcast on BBC Parliament, mainly concentrating on whoever's speaking.  The chamber was pretty empty, the bill under discussion is Technical and Further Education Bill proposed by Justine Greening, the The Secretary of State for Education.  When I arrived, David Rutley, Tory representative for Macclesfield was speaking although I was too busy simply enjoying being in the space and watching the routine of the chamber to listen.  As you enter, you're handed a card which explains some of the traditions on one side and the geography of the space on the other, although we're sat too far back to see anything but about a quarter of the space, certainly not the bar of the house.

Architecturally the public gallery is the same as the chamber.  For some reason, I'd expected wooden benches ala many courtrooms, but the seating is just the same as in the chamber, which gives the space a sense of unity.  Worth noting that the chairs aren't especially comfortable and like you often see with MPs who're there for a long session, I found myself sitting diagonally with my arm across the back.  Which isn't to say there isn't plenty of legroom, but not enough to cross your legs and it's  impossible to sit backwards which is philosophically important, I suppose.  Would we want our MPs to forced to sit to attention or have the facility to recline.  Not that the MPs did seem to be paying much attention anyway.  Many of them were sat looking at their iProduct screens.

But don't ask me what this Bill was about other than something, something education.  There was some "Order! Order!" when one of my favourite MPs, Lucy Powell, heckled her way into Hansard:
David Rutley

Progress in technical and further education and in apprenticeships is vital for the life chances of those seeking first-time employment. I therefore strongly support the Bill. I support it because it seeks to open clear, defined, aspirational paths to success, and it has the potential to help create much-needed parity of esteem between academic education and technical education, as has been talked about during the debate. That is ​further evidence that we on the Government Benches are the real workers party and that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills is at the vanguard of that movement.

Lucy Powell

There is nobody behind him, though!

David Rutley

Let us move on—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing)

Order. We cannot have sedentary remarks and remarks from behind the Chair. That is simply impossible.

David Rutley

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Lucy Powell 
I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. I want to put it on the record that it was I who was speaking from a sedentary position. The Minister is indeed at the vanguard, but the only other discernible member of the Government is the Minister for the Armed Forces, who is standing behind the Speaker’s Chair.
If only all of life had a Hansard and everything you say one day could be accessible on the internet the next. You'd never need to remember anything.  Although wasn't there a Black Mirror once about just this?  Ok forget it.

Once you've sat down, there isn't an awful lot to see that's new if you've spent much time watching BBC Parliament.  People shuffle in and out of the space constantly, both in the chamber itself and the public galleries, guided tours and groups of college students on what must be Politics courses.  Most don't stay very long and neither did I, about ten or fifteen minutes.  But there's something about being in a space, smelling the air, creating a memory.  I can't deny despite my slightly frosty attitude to the main parties that I wasn't a bit starstruck on seeing Greening herself, Powell and Tristram Hunt in the chamber, not to mention Robert Halfron who was so impressive in Michael Cockerell's BBC documentary, Inside the Commons.

The House of Lords wasn't in session last night so I didn't get the chance to also see the snoozers.  After leaving the Chamber I wasn't sure where else was open and quickly discovered not much after I attempted to walk towards a door only to quickly be chased after by a security guard who directed by back up towards Westminster Hall just in time to hear the seven o'clock chimes from inside the building, which didn't vibrate in the way I'd expected it to.  Nevertheless, whenever I watch those feeds now, I'll have an idea of how it feels, rather than having to imagine it.  The closest I thought I'd ever get was visiting the set used for television's First Among Equals and other projects at the old Granada Studios Tour in Manchester, yet there I was in the real thing last night.

My Favourite Film of 1920.



Film  My first experience of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari was at the Liverpool Biennial 2006 when I was working as an invigilator at Afoundation in Greenland Street building, in the furnace section of what’s now Camp and Furnace, or the big room with the long tables and caravans.

Goshka Macuga’s Sleep of Ulro installation included a giant wooden architectural construct directly influenced by the sets in the film, particularly in the studio bound moments when Caligari is apparently being chased across the landscape.

At The Furnace, visitors could run up such a space then find themselves trapped in a dead end, much like the structures on screen.  The piece required many invigilators, because of safety concerns, although it was almost impossible to keep our eyes on everything.

Culture 24 has a much longer review with images here and there's a shot from above at Getty Images which provides an even better idea of the scale of the piece about how it mimics the architecture within the film.  There's even more at /seconds.