Less Furious Road.

Film The Guardian's interview with George Miller has an interesting titbit about the preview process of the best action film of the year (sorry Joss):
"The studio released the film with an R rating in America, very rare for productions that cost as much as this one – somewhere in the vicinity of US$150m. From a financial point of view it is considered a given that releasing an R-rated movie, rather than editing it down to a more widely palatable PG, significantly impacts performance at the domestic box office. Potentially by tens of millions of dollars.

Says Miller: two versions of Fury Road were completed and screened to test audiences. “I’m happy to go on the record as saying we tested both versions and it was very clear that the bland version scored a lot less across all demographics than the version you see,” he says.

“To the great credit of the studio they realised if we decreased its intensity and took away a lot of its key imagery it would basically take the life out of the film. It was the studio that said if we compromise the film too much to get a PG, we won’t have a film at all. I thought that was very brave."
It would be an interesting academic exercise to see the PG version of the film, what exactly was lost (although I expect we can probably guess).  There have been plenty of examples of films having been compromised for ratings purposes, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire notably in the UK which had plenty of blood shots removed for theatrical release.  Sometimes you just have to let films be films.

Now, See Hear, Doctor.

TV When writing about Doctor Who's Under The Lake yesterday, I suggested it might be a good idea for the BBC to make a signed edition available as quickly as possible on the iPlayer. It's not on there yet, but yesterday there was a signed screening of the episode with Q&A as part of the See Hear festival and this making of piece from the programme itself about Sophie Stone's part in the episode has been posted online.

It's predictably fascinating, especially in relation to how the signing sections were prepared with Stone, Zaqi Ismail and a signing coach working through the next group of scenes to be filmed the evening before and negotiations about which pieces of signing would be used. Stone and Ismail essentially have their own dialects of signing due to communicating with relatives leading their own signs for various words.

Here is a less complex Extradental version:

Which includes how they had to make up signs for words which don't have official equivalents yet.


Film I think I'm just going to keep posting these quotes because something has to change. Whilst it's true that Raimi's Spider-Man was filmed and released over fifteen years ago, the second paragraph explains why this is still relevant.

  Kristen Dunst being interview by Elizabeth Day in The Observer:
"We start talking about whether the pressure to look a certain way is stronger for women than it is for men. Does she think the film industry is sexist? “God. These conversations are always so, like…” She pauses and I see her actively decide to say what she really feels. “I mean, yeah,” she concludes. She recalls that, when she was filming Spider-Man at the age of 18, the older men on set – including director Raimi – would call her “Girly-girl”.

“I didn’t like that at all. I mean, I think they meant it as endearing, but at my age I took it as dismissive.” At the time she was too intimidated to speak up for herself. But recently she found herself working with the same first assistant director on another film. “I told him how much that upset me,” she says. “And he treated me completely differently on this movie and we got along really well. He’s a great guy.”
And from The Guardian last Thur

Under The Lake.

TV  At the risk of sounding like the demented and tormented Brad Pitt detective at the end of the movie Seven, “What’s in the baaaaax????” Lesser stories and episodes than Toby Whithouse's Under The Lake, and we’ve all seen, read and heard them, would have made the idiotic choice of finding a mechanism for opening the suspended animation crate revealing what’s inside the cliff-hanger moment. All the talk of the Sword of Orion led me to Ted Rogers the contents to be a cyberman (partly because the writer also mentions a minuet and I assumed his script was a love-letter to McGann’s first audios season) and it might still be, but the point is that going into the next episode we still don’t know, the script’s self-esteem is high enough that it’s happy to keep some mysteries for its second instalment know full well that there’s enough other hullabaloo bounding around to keep us otherwise enthralled. It’s a BBC Two launch night of a script if you will (including the odd black out).

We’re at episode three, people, and everything is blazing. Within minutes the usual social media platform was buzzing with notices about this being the best episode ever and such (well amongst the dozen of us not watching the rugby) which is probably going a bit far, this is just a superior base under siege story so far not Human Nature. But having spent the day actually looking forward to watching Doctor Who, quite the change from last year when I almost stopped watching (true), the show didn’t disappoint and was actively enjoyable, hitting all the right notes, in the right order and actually made me laugh, a lot, my new second hand armchair shaking beneath me, and pretty scareded on more than one occasion. Which used to be the baseline expectation for Doctor Who before the new series threw it into a vat of contemporary television bells and whistles, so it’s actually comforting to find ones self watching something which isn’t afraid to just stand alone, land the TARDIS somewhere and have at it.

Given Whitehouse’s previous scripts for the series, there’s something pretty iconoclastic about Under The Lake’s traditionalism. Not all of them have worked (GUNS!) (SOMETIMES!) but they’ve all been pretty rangy in how they’ve interpreted the show. Yet here we are on a base, under a lake, with a crew of scientists being menaced by ghosts obscuring some other mystery designed to intrigue the Doctor. As is always the case with two parters it’s impossible to make a judgement about the whole thing yet, and the throw forward (spoiler alert until the end of this paragraph) certainly seems to bend expectations in that we’ll soon be visiting the area of the base before if became the base which I don’t think has happened before, time travel becoming a component for the second story running, but so far Whitehouse has pretty much followed the series five playbook to the Pemberton. Was Vector Pretroleum, a shout out to the Fury of the Deep writer? Let’s hope so.

With all the necessary caveats in place, how are we orientated? Let’s look at the elements, starting with the crew who with the exception of the rather obvious Weyland-Yutani spy played by the usually called upon to be more subtle Steven Robertson, they’re that rare example of a group of professionals assured of their capabilities. How marvellous (as Russell might say) that ours is the show which has a leader whose abilities are just the sort of thing which are required at a crucial moment, who’s capabilities are what drives the story forward and which no one else, even the Doctor it seems, are able to tap into. Sophie Stone was the first deaf person to be accepted at RADA and it’s incalculable the effect of seeing this heroism might have had on children with similar dreams of following in the foot steps of either the actor or her character and it’s to be hoped that a signed repeat of the story turns up on television and the iPlayer as quickly as possible (it's currently listed in the signed section but none of the streams are yet).

It’s an eclectically cast group. The leader's translator Zaqi Ismail’s only other screen credit is Indian Summer II, mostly working otherwise in regional theatre, his ability to read sign language the only skill listed on his CV. To that he should add "able to look petrified, terrified and generally shit scared." Arsher Ali, best known for the Chris Morris film, Four Lions, also in what's usually a fodder role but given enough scope for some genuinely funny emoting. Then right in the middle is the mighty Morvern Christie, finally receiving her Doctor Who credit after having even avoided the gaze of Big Finish's various casting Saurons and utterly charming as she always is. She was literally the only reason I sat through all eight episodes of Frank Spotnitz co-production misfire Hunted and is still on my top five lists for potential future Doctors, the one I keep in back up just in case Romola is too busy as president of the known universe.

Structurally the base is about what it needs to be design wise, with lots of bulkheads and corridors and cargo bays, fulfilling the usual narrative requirements.  Has anyone written a piece for the sorority bulletin about how the aesthetics of these environments have changed across the series both in broadcast order and in-verse chronologically?  Under The Lake offers a pretty classical example, mainly white but with lived in sections, rather like crashing the Liberator into Moonbase Alpha.  All these bases have a unique feature and so here's a Faraday Cage, for which the Radio Times handily asked a proper scientist an explanation the other day which includes the ability to block radio waves making the wifi in the Doctor's sonic sunglasses all the more magical.  If nothing else it reminds me that I haven't watched Planet of the Dead lately.  Let's add Lady Christina De Souza to the list of characters who we hope Big Finish will grant an audio boxed set, shall we?

Like Vampires of Venice, the apparent supernatural elements sadly turns out not to be, an implementation instead of some alien's plan.  Nonetheless these are perfectly spooky examples with their blank spaces and faces with the irony that outside Christie, the episode's most prominent guest cast members find themselves being called upon to speak wordlessly (though perhaps they'll return next week in the earlier time period given their offhand demises here so early in the episode).  Again, Whithouse's script is careful to keep them intriguing.  How are they able to become randomly corporeal enough to carry metal and how come they can't exist within the artificial daylight of the cabin embracing instead the darkness?  Image wise they're genuinely horrific and as every I wonder how this will play with children, how far over the edge this is.  There's plenty of jump-scare horror on Netflix which has design work less potent than this,

After the emotional horrors of last season, Clara and to an extent Jenna, seem happy to allow themselves to slip backwards into a more traditional companion role.  There's a supercut to be made for just how many times she says "Doctor" or asks a question in the episode to such and extent that even the Doctor not only notices but even uncomfortably warns her against "going native" with the implication that she's using this urge for adventure as a way of running from her grief.  Jenna's playing in this scene is extraordinary, the mask of trying to accept the kind of sympathy which is being offered by someone who's only really wanting to make themselves feel better, and wanting that conversation to end.  Let me direct you to this superb animation about the difference between sympathy and empathy (with a trigger warning for anyone touched by tragedy recently) (he says inelegantly), then go back and watch Jenna's face as she allows him to stop, especially her eyes.

But the Doctor's attitude and Capaldi's performance in that scene is the epitome of this new and improved Twelfth Doctor.  Arguably his attitude hasn't changed that much from last year, he's still rude and yes, lacking in empathy, but he's clearly aware that it's a problem with this incarnation and the introduction of the cards (screengrabs here) and the implications of them is warm and funny rather than horrific, I think.  This is no longer the man who simply dismissed all of the humans who went inside the Dalek with him out of hand and we're almost seeing a reverse of the Fourth and Leela during their Hinchcliffe season, of Clara attempting to civilise him.  There's also a quite shameless introduction of Tenth like pop culture referencing too and dime-switching from complement to counterintuitive: the moment when he thanks Christie for turning on all the lights before asking her to do the reverse.  Continuing on from last week (although we don't really know the production order), the actor simply feels more confident in himself and his ability to do his childhood hero justice.

One item which on the one hand is obviously simply a quick way of making the crew trust him but which otherwise has interesting implications is how this 22nd century crew are not just aware of UNIT but also the Doctor as an entity even to the point if LINDA like fandom.  Having spent the best part of a season not too long ago expunging himself from the knowledge of the universe, now some rando in an underwater mining facility has heard of him.  He seems unconcerned by this.  It's possible that this is simple foreshadowing for next week's episode when the Doctor potentially does something notorious enough with the help of future UNIT in the base's past to warrant this recognition.  But in the spin-offs, the "future" history of the organisation is sketchy (even if information about its employee's descendents isn't) so again, we're seeing a very confident script dropping potential hints for some future narrative, either next week in the coming months.

Which returns us to the initial question.  “What’s in the baaaaax????”  The imdb page for the episode has a potentially spoilery casting line, but I'm not convinced it's that simple.  It's not Davros this time.  My boiler plate theory is that it's the Doctor's real body, him having become a ghost for reasons and he'll spend the episode trying to explain this and how to put the two back together in her part of the upcoming episode, the Time Lord having discovered the identity of the person who thought they'd be going in the box, but that doesn't explain the fatalities.  Unless it is a cyberman.  Or it isn't actually revealed next week who is in the box, the Doctor having decided it's probably best not known.  But like The Satan Pit, a locked box simply can't stay closed, it has to be opened and my goodness I can;t wait for the explanation which is a wonderful, wonderful feeling.  Although it's become a disastrous night for English Rugby fans in the period its taken me to write this review, for Doctor Who fans it has been the exact opposite.

On Display.

Art It's well known that a vast percentage of a museum or gallery's collection isn't on display either because the archive is chock full of very average art which has been bequested by well meaning collectors with little taste, or because the work is difficult to adequately display or because tastes have changed. But the percentages are far starker than I'd realised. Here's a BBC Culture paragraph which tots up some statistics:
"The walls of the Tate, the Met, the Louvre or MoMA may look perfectly well-hung, but the vast majority of art belonging to the world’s top art institutions (and in many countries, their taxpayers) is at any time hidden from public view in temperature-controlled, darkened, and meticulously organised storage facilities. Overall percentages paint an even more dramatic picture: the Tate shows about 20% of its permanent collection. The Louvre shows 8%, the Guggenheim a lowly 3% and the Berlinische Galerie – a Berlin museum whose mandate is to show, preserve and collect art made in the city – 2% of its holdings. These include approximately 6,000 sculptures and paintings, 80,000 photographs, and 15,000 prints by artists including George Grosz and Hannah Höch."
The overall piece explains why some pieces aren't shown more often. But there will be plenty of very good museum pieces in all our national collections, which we pay for, that don't see the light simply because of a lack of wall space.

Although there'll be matters of insurance and security, but why not loan these to smaller galleries throughout the country or other municipal institutions, create small "national galleries" in the provinces augmenting existing art collections?

In some of these museums for all the gems, there's also a fair amount of pretty average stuff which is essentially wall filling because it feels like there should be some oils, works on paper are too perishable and which could be replaced with works of international interest.

Arena's Night and Day.

TV As part of its fortieth anniversary celebrations, the BBC's Arena strand will be setting up an internet stream which utilises the show's back catalogue to create a visual experience which maps the hours of a day in a kind of loose version of Christian Marclay's The Clock:
"As Arena approaches its 40th anniversary, the strand sets sail into uncharted waters. 'Night and Day' is a 24 hour visual experience following the pattern of day and night, drawn exclusively from Arena’s rich and varied archive. This is a unique and ground-breaking project, unlike anything seen on your television screens. Night and Day is designed to be experienced on a range of platforms – as a continuous cinema or art piece, as a 24 hour television broadcast, and living permanently as a continuous transmission online, all broadcast in real time, following the light through morning, noon and night. An accompanying second screen app in sync with the main art work will provide further information about the scenes as they unfold."
There'll also be a 90 minute condensed version, although I have a feeling I'll be spending day or two with the longer version.

Out Class and Online.

TV When the official Doctor Who twitter feed knocked out this at six o'clock this evening pretty much everyone was excited:

Cue five hours of random speculation on the Twitters in which most fans seemed to convince themselves that it would be a missing episode announcement or that Osgood was going to be announced as a companion or some such. Unless that was just me. Either way when this happened:

And eventually:

Everyone was:

Even though:

Which is entirely correct.

Anyway, so yes, a Doctor Who's getting a spin-off, it's called Class and it's set in Coal Hill School and it's written by Patrick Ness.

BUT and I've rather buried the headline here, the channel it's for, BBC Three, goes online only in January something which is unmentioned in the above press release (although the Radio Times has noticed).  So when this is "broadcast" next autumn, it's main distribution point will be the iPlayer or a surviving BBC channel late night.

SO Class is, like Spooks: Code 9 before it, is a YA spin-off of a very successful existing property designed to promote the reformating of BBC Three.

Notice too that this is for BBC Three and not CBBC so although it seems like a rerun of SJA to some degree the tone they'll more like be searching for is Buffy or Almost Human but not, we should suspect Torchwood.

Speculation: the return of Courtney and Jenna Coleman as a series regular.  Ian Chesterton cameo and Capaldi appearing in at least one episode.

Patrick Ness is supposed to be quite good.  I wasn't a huge fan of his Puffin eBook from 2013 featuring Fifth and Nyssa, his only other Who credit so far, but you do have to ask why him?  Are we seeing the BBC training someone to take over from Moffat?  He only has one other screenwriting credit albeit on a major motion picture based on his own novel.

We don't know much about it but in general I'm still, well, hum.  The Caretaker was the third worst episode of last year but that was mainly due to the appalling gender politics rather than anything to do with the school.  But it doesn't feel like anything spectacularly new based on the press release, essentially Grange Hill with aliens and haven't we seen that already?

Which isn't to say that a Paternosters spin-off would be the better choice but there was certainly scope to introduce a thing in the main series, as per Torchwood, which was a bit more unusual.  But the scope of this seems firmly based on what could be budgeted relatively cheaply as per most precinct dramas.  I'll try not to pre-judge though.  We await casting announcements with great interest.

Rufford Old Hall.

A fine Tudor building, the home for stories of romance, wealth and 500 years of Hesketh family history.

Be wowed by the Tudor Great Hall with its fantastic furniture, arms, armour, tapestries and the carved oak screen, a rare survivor from the 1500s. History springs to life in the Hesketh's dining room, its food-laden table, lit candles and 'fire in the hearth' waiting to welcome the family's dinner guests.

And did Shakespeare spend a short time here in his youth? There’s reasonable evidence to suggest that he could once have known Rufford’s Great Hall for a few months whilst still in his teens. Ask us about the evidence and decide for yourself!

Then relax as you stroll through Rufford's Victorian and Edwardian gardens - and remember you're only a few feet (or metres) above sea level - making Rufford one of the lowest lying National Trust gardens in England.
Heritage  Sitting on my desk right now, next to this laptop, is a small brown cardboard box with the words My National Trust embossed into the lid with a logo containing the silhouette of an oak leaf above.  Everything about it is making me smile.  Becoming a member of the National Trust wasn't something I set out to do today.  But after surprising myself with a visit to Rufford Old Hall having only discovered its existence yesterday, and realising at the entrance gate that the fiver per month membership fee by direct debit was wholly affordable and cheaper than the average entrance fee (having previously looked at the lump sum approach of old and shivered), I handed over my Visa Debit details and was given in return a copy of the 2015 handbook.  The membership card will be in the post by the end of next month.

After completing the North West Art Collections project, I've been a bit of a loose end wanting to try something else.  Various ideas have been researched and rejected.  After watching the funeral of Richard III, I considered seeing the tombs of all the British monarchs.  But that's messy geographically, plus it felt like more of a box ticking exercise and the only proper way to do it would be chronologically and frankly, yes but no.  Another was to work through the remaining art collections in Your Paintings but many of them are in official buildings ill equipped for visits by members of the public so there'd never be a case of simply just turning up.  I almost decided to try and see everything by a particular artist but then there was the process of choosing the artist and it was inevitably going to be someone with lots of work in private collections.

The National Trust, in the end, was inevitable.  For one thing I've already visited a couple of the properties for the purposes of the other project as you'll see if you click the new tag at the bottom of this post.  Plus there's a decent iProduct app with a structure that shows properties closest to you so there's a fairly logical approach to fanning out from home into the country.  But there's also the fact that although there's a relatively finite amount of destinations, there are enough that I'm unlikely to run out ever.  So it's a project which feels like it has the potential for completion but really doesn't and also has the added bonus of forcing me to visit properties even further afield in places I wouldn't otherwise have a reason to visit, just like the other project (although just like the other project everything is public transport and cost permitting).

Rufford Old Hall, then. The origins of the house are messy. A property has stood on the land since the 14th century, but a version of the current building was erected in 1530 (of which great hall (pictured) is the only surviving element), possibly by Thomas Hesketh after a series of inheritances of the kind which tended to happen then because women weren't allowed to keep hold of the money which we'd now deem quite rightly as being theirs. The house then stayed in the family for centuries who made a series of changes including the current extensions, although the main family subsequently moved to a Rufford New Hall which led to this building getting its name. As well as the family, it also attracted numerous tennants including a school who used the main hall during one of the periods of building work.

The entry on Your Paintings, the Wikipedia and this old local guide book transcript have versions of the story which somewhat contradict one another and even having also heard it described by one of the volunteer guides in the house, I'm still unclear as to the chronology and who these people were.  Perhaps I should have bought a guide book.  Perhaps the National Trust's own website should be more detailed.  Ultimately the house itself has resolved itself into two periods, the Tudor section of the great hall and the rest of the house which since being gifted to the Trust in 1936 has largely been regressed back to how it would have looked in the Victorian era when the majority of the fixtures and fittings were originally installed.  A lot of these had been moved to the family's eventual regular home at Easton Neston but then bought back when the contents of that property were sold in 2004.

It's at time like this I remember wistfully the more linear philanthropic development of regional art collections.  On entering the house my first question, just to make sure, was whether there was any particularly distinguished paintings and the first answer was no but after exploring and chatting to the various volunteers this turned out to be not quite right.  The majority of the collection is production line family portraits and in some of these you can actually see how the body and background had been prepared by one artist ready for another to paint in the face of the given subject.  But in the dressing room upstairs there's a massive collection of flower watercolours by Ellen Stevens which had been bought by the Trust who decided they'd be best presented at Rufford.  Minutely detailed and observed, they're almost worth the visit to the house by themselves.

The best oil painting in the house is the utterly thrilling An Extensive Landscape with Exotic Flowers, Fruit and Vegetables and a 'Noli me Tangere' in the Garden Beyond by the obscure Flemish painter Gommaert van der Gracht.  Glancing towards the surrealism four hundred odd years before Dali and Magritte, Gracht combines a landscape, still life, animal painting with a religious scene.  Superbly detailed fruit fill almost half the composition, with a goat representing Adam eating fruit from a tree on which vines represent a serpent.  Meanwhile in the background, a resurrected Jesus visits Mary Magdalene, the allegorical message being that we're seeing the original sin being forgiven.  Here's an image though the postage stamp you're looking at fails the capture the grandeur of this canvas which fills half a wall in the dining room.

As you can see from the above quote from the Trust website, Rufford's other claim to fame is a Shakespeare connection, the idea being that the playwright spent part of the missing years here both as a player in a tour company and assistant teacher in around 1585.  The only potential documentary evidence appears to be a will by Alexander Houghton of Lea Hall near Preston which states:
"Item. It is my mind and will that the said Thomas Hoghton of Brynescoules my brother shall have all my instruments belonging to music, and all manner of play clothes if he be minded to keep and do keep players.

"And if he will not keep and maintain players then it is my mind and will that Sir Thomas Hesketh knight shall have the same instruments and play clothes.

"And I most heartily require the said Sir Thomas to be friendly unto Fluke Gyllome and William Shakeshafte now dwelling with me and either to take them into his service or else to help them to some good master as my trust is he will."
Shakeshafte being Shakespeare in this instance. The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare is cynical, noting that Shakespeare has to be back in Stratford two years later to marry Anne Hathaway and that although Shakeshaft was a common name in the area at the time, there's no evidence of it having been used interchangeably in Shakespeare's family.  In other words, as is so often the case with the man, we simply don't know.  But there are some related books, including the RSC Complete Works in the gift shop just in case.

Although it's only a relatively small house, the visit filled about three and a half hours including a Lancashire cheese sandwich in the cafe which has been set up in the house's original kitchens.  The rest of the visitors were of retirement age and plenty of them seemed to buzz around within about half an hour (apart from one gentleman who was admirably thorough with his questions of the volunteers, right down to how the cutlery was arranged in the dining room).  But I tended to sit in each of the rooms flicking through the large visitor guides provided and enjoying being in the space mostly because I know what 2015 is like and something you just want to get away from it as much as possible.  Becoming a National Trust member genuinely feels like the next best thing to being handed the keys to a TARDIS.

My Favourite Film of 1979.

Film Glancing backwards through this list as we creep ever closer to the moment when I'll be choosing films released before the year of my birth, one pattern which is emerging is how often a film hasn't just been something I've enjoyed on a visceral or emotional level but also as a kind of gateway to something else, be it the art of Surat in the case of Ferris Bueller, the cosmology of Sunshine and Shakespeare's appearance in Star Trek VI (probably) (if I'm being honest).  There's a sense that I'm especially drawn to films which don't just exist as pure entertainment but also have the weight of being a kind of cultural event in which the narrative and character are extrapolated through and drawn around cultural artifacts leading to a much deeper experience.

Manhattan's a case in point.  When I saw the film on Channel 4, years after its original release I was overwhelmed, not just by Gordon Willis's mythologising photography of the city or the psychologically complex characterisation, but also the cultural references, most of which I didn't understand at the time but wanted to.  This is probably the first time I heard Gershwin, of Flaubert, of Cezanne, of Fellini and Zelda Fitzgerald.  There are also the locations: the Guggenheim, the American Museum of Natural History, Bloomingdale's, MOMA, the Whitney.  When watching Manhattan, you're not just watching a film, you're listening to a concert, you're visiting an art exhibition, reading literature and you're being given an architectural tour and the director makes sure that you notice.  He wants you to notice.

Recently, there seems to be less of these films as "cultural events" because film culture in particular is increasingly scared to alienating its audience by presenting it with culture (and even a culture) it might not necessarily be aware of in an otherwise familiar context.  How often now do we see adaptations, even of contemporary novels, and the first element to be excised or neutered are the cultural references?  Or in order to make the life of an artist or poet acceptable to a wider audience, the work they create is backgrounded in favour of a love story or some other historical moment.  Pollock's a rare example of a film in which you actually learn something about his method and inspiration on top of his psychological underpinning and biography (indeed it's the very film which finally led me to understanding why his earlier work, at least, is great).

Which is why the rare occasions when films do embrace such things can be a joy.  The underrated Liberal Arts has a sequence in which its protagonist is introduced to a ton of classical music in a montage sequence through which we watch him experience a cultural awakening and I expect most of us are right along with him and straight to Spotify to listen to these pieces in full.  Which isn't to say that sometimes filmmakers don't get such things horrendously wrong.  Welcome as it is to see Jane Austen feature in The Rewrite, she's generally ridiculed and there's no way on earth a scholar of the calibre Allison Janney's apparently playing wouldn't be aware of Clueless or not seen any of the adaptations.  I have a theory that the professors Janney plays in each of these films are somehow related and argue the toss over such matters at Thanksgiving.

I've often talked about a kind of cultural awakening which happened in the early 90s and Manhattan and plenty of Woody Allen's other films and films in general will have been a contributing factor (and since it's important to credit the gateway, it was probably Ed Chigliak in Northern Exposure and his various dream sequences) (Northern Exposure was also a huge factor but this list doesn't feature television) (ahem).  Which isn't to say that they're designed that way.  When Alvy pulls out Marshall Mcluhan in Annie Hall, it's in front of an audience he expects to know who Marshall Mcluhan is (even if it's not necessarily necessary in order to understand the joke).  It's worth noting I've yet to see The Sorrow and the Pity and it's The Last Action Hero which led to me watch The Seventh Seal.

Nevertheless this seems to me to be one of the embraceable cliches.  From the moment we're born, we're constantly absorbing the culture around us, accepting some, rejecting others, leading to a set of behaviours or something to live up to.  Much of the time it's a manufactured fantasy but the trick, if we're to remain sane, is to counter intuitively follow Cypher's request in The Matrix to be re-inserted otherwise we'll spend our lives like Neo, nostalgically glancing out of car windows at restaurants we used to eat, with really good noodles, that we now know don't exist.  When I saw Manhattan, I didn't see any justifiable reason why, even if I could never live in this 1979 city, I couldn't at least enjoy some of its benefits.  Hello Rhapsody in Blue.  Hello Fellini.  Hello as many other films set in New York as I could find which included Jon Jost's All The Vermeers in New York.  Hello Vermeer.

Which isn't to say I actively wanted to live my life like the characters in the film.  They seems so old and stressed out and I didn't really fancy Muriel Hemingway (because it would have felt like I was cheating on Debbie Gibson and the girl I fancied on the 80 bus) (teenage boys are curious beings).  But it was the idea of having that sort of cultural awareness which was attractive, of being the sort of person who would sit in the evening listening to records or reading the latest novels rather than playing Wizball on the C64 and watching the Justice episode of Star Trek: TNG for the umpteenth time (like I said, teenage boys...).  I still aspire to all that and manage it sometimes, through in present circumstance I have noticeably been watching more films which is always a fallback position but which it should be added I don't feel embarrassed about because why should I?

But when critics and audiences increasingly describe films as empty experiences, it's impossible not to attribute some of that to the loss of culture and of presenting characters connected to aspirationally higher art.  Film companies necessarily want to present audiences with characters they think they'll identify with which means they're more like to go to a rock concert than an opera house and if they do visit an opera house, it'll be part of a "fish out of water" routine or an action sequence rather than their natural repose.  Say what you like about Amazon's television selection, but between Mozart in the Jungle and hiring Whit Stillman and Woody himself to produce series it's unembarrassed by its high art tendencies.  If only this was still true of the big screen.  Still, we'll always have Manhattan.

On Doctor Who ratings.

TV The consolidated "ratings" for Doctor Who's The Magician's Apprentice are out:

As you'll see this doesn't include the iPlayer numbers so essentially they're a fiction and in no way reflect the actual number of people who watched episode in subsequent days and as will be the case now weeks, since it'll be hanging around the streaming service for a good time yet.  We won't really know the implications of the numbers until the regular column is published in the association gazette in a month or so.

Which is the point.  You can look at The Witch's Familiar's numbers and bang your head against a table until your forehead bleeds but 3.7m overnight isn't awful in the current television climate.  Few things are appointment television any more especially drama and there are loads of die-hard fans of the kind which work on the show and its ancillary spin-off material who don't even bother watching it on broadcast.  The only reason I do is so I can get the review out that night.

Let's not worry about cancellations and hiatuses just yet.  Moffat's said in the past that the show's emergence on a Saturday night is increasingly becoming its "publication" time and that they only really care about how many people consume it across its life, rather like a movie which barely registers at the cinema but does well on dvd and streaming.  If people lose interest in these later moments, that's when we begin to worry.

One of the reasons viewers must be timeshifting is because its often difficult to keep track of what time Doctor Who is on.  In its current broadcast position, Doctor Who is a slave to Strictly, TX dependent on the current duration of that lead in programme.  Ideally Who would be on first and has been previously, but because of some astonishing lack of nerve in the face of Simon Cowell, the DCMS and who knows what, the drama's been sacrificed against The X Factor and the Rugby.

Updated!  29/09/2015  The Guardian's posted a ratings update hidden in a wider story about comments from BBC1 controller Charlotte Moore saying she'd be ok about a female Doctor.  Mentions that the show's had an 1.5m viewings so far on the iPlayer which puts the show's "rating" at 8m - though of course 6.5m of that is extrapolated speculation rather than solid, countable streams.

Doctor Who News also mentions the overnights for the Sunday omnibus.  The share seems bizarrely low, but again it was opposite the rugby.Nevertheless, it's still wrong to say the ratings are dropping.  The ratings are just fine.

More on Women in Film.

Film The Observer this weekend ran a couple of pieces about women in film which underscore, just as this tiff Q&A does, the huge gap between men and women in the industry. Firstly an interview with Geena Davis, who is a key example of how Hollywood treats its actresses so poorly:
At 59, Davis is familiar with the crushing silence of a phone that never rings. Women in film are, she says “definitely” discriminated against because of their age.

“I was averaging about one movie a year my whole career and that was because I’m fussy. I probably could have done more. And then in my 40s I made one movie… And I was positive it wasn’t going to happen to me because I got a lot of great parts for women. I was very fortunate to have all that stuff happen and never get typecast, so I was just cruising along thinking: ‘Well yeah, it won’t happen to me.’ It did.”
Then nine women in film talk about the sexism they've either seen or experienced themselves. Agnes Godard, cinematographer:
"I have experienced sexism at work. Most of the time it’s a refusal to do what you’ve asked, or to doubt the legitimacy of the instruction. The most illustrative thing I went through was a long time ago, in 1983, when I was a focus puller on the Wim Wenders film Paris, Texas. The director of photography (DoP) was Robby Müller and I split my role with his usual focus puller. One week Robby wasn’t there and I set the camera and did a frame. When Robby arrived, he said, “Who did this beautiful frame? It’s really good”, and the grip, who was next to me, said it was the male assistant who made it. I was just speechless – I felt invisible. I think I said something, but it was like a whisper, because I was astonished. And I was shy and quite young at the start of my career, and I didn’t feel I could complain."
Trigger warning: the comments on both articles fulfil Lewis's Law.

The Witch's Familiar.

TV Ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous. There’s not a lot more you can say about The Witch's Familiar even though I expect I will as the night draws on. Much of Doctor Who is pretty ridiculous.  It’s why we love it so, and why all of it is amazing even when it is rubbish. Try to describe the plot of most stories to someone with only a passing interest in the series and they’ll generally look at you as though you spent the whole of the 60s dropping acid despite you having been born in the 70s. Try it some time, pick something at random, The Sunmakers, for example, and have a go. Watch carefully for the moment when they either (a) try to look for the quickest route out of the conversation or (b) have the phrase “And you watch this?” pop into their brains awaiting the most strategic moment of deployment.

This isn’t unique to Doctor Who. Most of science fiction and fantasy has to be pretty bonkers in order to justify its own existence and keep us entertained, but there’s just something expressively weird about Doctor Who because no matter how many times you think you have a story understood and you know what’s about to happen, some random element will introduce itself and everything will narratively head off in a direction you weren’t expecting. Indeed there’s an argument that Doctor Who fails when it isn’t doing that, when everything you think will happen in a story happens, when a particular story element is set up to occur in an episode and there is no twist and the outcome is as expected. But I think I’ve clobbered half of last year’s episodes more than enough.

That’s why The Witch's Familiar is so damn good. Throughout I had absolutely no idea what it was doing, where it was going and how it was going to end. Not one. As a friend pointed out to me last week, there were story elements in the first part, the Hand Mines, the planes with laser being shot at by bows and arrows which would have been key elements of some other shows and yet they’re introduced and forgotten almost immediately. Such as we are with the hybrid Daleks. In another series, that would have been status quo from now onwards, the old threat regenerated. But in Doctor Who, it’s blown up almost as soon as it’s introduced as a way of underscoring how its main character reacts to danger, his compulsive expectation that he’s going to win (wearing now what amounts a pair of Joo Janta 200s).

Even when it looks predictable, it really isn’t. Knowing full well that we didn’t really believe that the Daleks would have exterminated Missy and Clara (despite neither of the given actresses appearing in any of the published cast lists), the writer Steven Moffat, for it is he, boldly just sticks them in the teaser, explaining how they got out of that as a way of introducing the aforementioned compulsive expectation. Even then we know, because they tell us, that their part of the episode will be about them returning to the city, but because Missy’s an even more unhinged presence than ever before, “a nightmare dressed like a daydream” if you will, we’ve no idea what that will look like especially since the only reason she’s keeping Clara alive is because of some notion murder her further down the line.  Or sewer.

Sure enough what results is a version of the Hulk and Loki incident from The Avengers (Assemble) over and over and over again with Clara, the familiar in this case, on the receiving end. In this strand Moffat’s paying homage to The Mutants (or whatever Doctor Who Magazine’s deciding to call it now) to a large extent, with the companion in much the same position as the Thals in that earlier adventure, but whereas the unpredictable element then was dependent on which of the fair haired ciphers would be eaten by a tentacled something from the deep, here it's whatever horror Missy will subject the companion to. With the chemistry between Michelle and Jenna underpinning the comedy with dread and Hettie MacDonald’s nose for slapstick and editing, it’s all hilarious and scary. And sticky.

And perverse because here’s Missy also inflicting on Clara the shocking truth behind, Oswin, the character played by the actress’s first appearance in the series. Across the years Daleks have supposed to be scary but there are few fans who haven’t also wanted to become one, running around in circular columns of printed pvc or a cardboard box with some blu-tac stuck on the end of a pencil applied to the front (depending on the disposable income of the parent). Yet here’s poor Oswin or at least a version of her, having a similar experience turned into a nightmare for a second time. Like Chesterton she finds herself locked inside. Unlike Chesterton that captivity extends to her ability to communicate. Expect an ios or (ironically) Android translation doodat which does much the same thing at an app store in time for Christmas.

Except, all of this is just the B-story. Weaving throughout is the Doctor’s confrontation with Davros which barring the introductory scenes in which this Twelfth incarnation finally recreates the bitter John Birt end of the 1993 BBC VT Christmas tape (“So Jeannette, by increasing my assistant’s salary to above my own I can then point out to the governors the foolishness of the pay scale AND GUARANTEE FOR MYSELF A HANDSOME PAY RISE”) is a two hander between these old, old foes and friends. Again, ridiculously, we’re in episode two of a twelve episode run and it’s largely about emotional chicanery and referencing forty year old mythology at a time when in earlier series it was about properly introducing some new companion or showing a post-regenerative Doctor’s first adventure.  Thrilling, intellectually satisfying and also shifting that old mythology onwards still.

After his first couple of appearances, the original television run of the show tended to made a point of keeping these two separate for as long as possible which was nonsense because as even Davros knows, the reason Genesis of the Daleks is a classic is because of his lengthy conversation with the Doctor over the price of eggs or the universe (which is roughly the same in the Organic food section of Waitrose). In later years, Big Finish has thankfully noticed and Joseph Lidster’s Terror Firma in particular presents a spiritually similar conversation as appears here with Davros apparently close to death (which is why its absence was felt so much last week presumably due to licensing and BBC charter reasons). For all his whimsy, the Doctor’s always at his best when academically jousting with scientists even if he has the beating hearts of an artist.

As expected, Moffat’s Genesis wave from last week wasn’t just the introduction of some gratuitous continuity point and paid off this week (and how). There was always something slightly nonsensical about Fourth's attitude to those two wires in Genesis since he’d destroyed the Dalek race on numerous occasions already and all he’d be doing was saving his younger incarnations from doing much the same thing as Twelfth does at the conclusion of this story (somewhat referencing Power in the process). He mentions the effects on history (which various chronologies have since suggested happen anyway due to the line about setting back the development of the Daleks) and Russell T Davies has since suggested it was the original front of the Time War. But, yes, it’s a very odd scene in retrospect.

Even more than Journey’s End, the intensity of Julian Bleach’s depiction of Davros is breathtaking, continuing the legacy of Wisher, Gooderson and Molloy with the script providing him the opportunity for offering even greater emotional depths, at least for the screen version (Molloy has been astonishing in the audios too and I don’t want to draw away from his achievement). Davros’s eyes open and suddenly the least expressive element of the old mask is given force. We know now of course that both figures in the conversation are play acting, but anyone who's heard the biographical audio series about Davros (which Moffat studiously doesn’t contradict at all here) will find even greater poignancy in the action (even as we’re wondering if Moffat meant to paraphrase George Lucas or more probably Lawrence Kasdan here).

Up against him is the Doctor giving his A-game. Yes, he is the Doctor. He really, really is. There were glimmers in the final production block episode of last year and Last Christmas that Capaldi had realised how to play him and Moffat to write him, but finally we have a figure that fulfils the promise of those technicolour eyebrows from The Day of the Doctor, all of the fierce, powerful forces, underpinned by tenderness, diplomacy and yes, compassion even if in the latter case it’s being deployed as a bluff. Peter finally looks like he’s properly enjoying himself and also that his Time Lord skin fits snugly rather than as something he’s been told to wear and is making the most of it. Even without the visual reference at the start of the episode, we can see the Fourth Doctor as a major influence, but Scottish (with a few Tennanty ticks).

More than that, I also feel like my hero’s returned, which as anyone who held my hand through the dark times last year will know is huge. This man simply doesn’t feel like the cruel impostor who wandered through series eight, though I say that cautiously given that he only has a conversation with about half a dozen people across this entire story and none of them are strangers. We’ll see what happens next week. But when he smiles here, it’s with the gleeful, comfortable warmth of Tom or the other Peter or Matt rather than because his teeth want a divorce from his gums and can’t seem to find a decent solicitor. It’s been argued that what we saw last year was the mania of a post-regenerative cycle stretched across twelve episodes, but without that made plain in the script, it was really hard to take.

Then, just when it looks like everything’s about resolve itself and the Dalek base is about to tip into its own sewers, there’s the supremely odd scene of Missy trying to convince the Doctor to murder Clara. Designed mainly to give the Time Lady a point in the story which isn’t that she not River Song, it’s the Doctor Who equivalent of the repeated fake out which causes the surviving cast of the various Scream sequels to have weapons to hand when current wearer of Ghost Face looks like he’s already checked out. We know he won’t do it and on the surface it seems like the kind of slightly bland confrontation designed to ramp up some false tension that often ruins a good story.

But as has been the case in the rest of the story, it has a purpose: to return the Doctor to moment of cliff-hanger in the previous episode, the reasons for which are self-explanatory. Nevertheless there are staggering implications which are somewhat glossed over and are connected to the end scene of Listen. How is the TARDIS able to visit these points in time now, old Skaro and old Gallifrey, given the events of the Time Way and why is he not asking that question? When young Davros was revealed last week, I thought half of the surprise was that the Doctor could even be in that space let alone be speaking to a pint-sized version of his arch enemy. Moffat’s said that all these stories will be linked in some way. Perhaps he’ll return to this element later in the year.

The upshot of all this is that I’m really excited about the next ten episodes plus Christmas special which is really good news since the last thing you want is to dread watching the next episode of what purports to be a favourite television series (as anyone who sat through s6 of Buffy and s5 of The West Wing will tell you). Moffat seems to be enjoying himself again, evidenced by the teaser and at the other end of the episode Missy’s first meeting with Davros after all these years. We’ll see how that transmits through the other writers, if this is a genuine new direction for the series or an abiration.  Nevertheless, for now, Doctor Who’s back to be being the thing it should always be, ridiculous, utterly ridiculous. But in a good way.

Doctor Who Speculation.

TV I've just tweeted the following but I'm putting a version of it here for posterity.

Jenna Coleman's not listed in the cast for episode two but Clara is mentioned in the official synopsis for episode three.

The speculation:

Clara really has been exterminated. She's gone.

But before the next adventure, either at the end of tomorrow night or the beginning of the third episode, the Doctor breaks into his own chronology and picks up a Clara from earlier in her timestream, before the version we saw at the beginning of The Magician's Apprentice and they travel the universe in the classical style, usual sorts of adventures, the Doctor knowing her fate.

Then at the end of the final episode, he drops her back on Earth, knowing it has to end some time, and knowing her fate.  Which she doesn't.

Or the final episode will about him trying to get around the laws of time in order so that she can live. Something like that.

Yes, it's very reminiscent of at least three things Moffat's done before but if he and Doctor Who are capable of anything it's re-using old ideas that work.

Updated 27/9/2015  Well, I got that wrong.

Elizabeth Wurtzel on the BRCA mutation.

Health Something I had absolutely no idea about. From the NYT:
"The BRCA mutation entered the Jewish community in Poland some 500 years ago, and because the Jews of Eastern Europe lived in isolated communities, they incubated it among themselves. Entire families of women were wiped out by breast cancer, and no one knew why as they buried their dead.

"Even though the 14 million Jews of the world today have scattered and intermarried, the BRCA mutation still disproportionately affects Ashkenazi Jews."


Film The new Peanuts film has a website which offers you the chance to produce a version of yourself in the new threedification of Charles Schultz's style. Find me above, in all my man at Asda, t-shirt and jeans glory. As with the Paddington film, I'm expecting nothing but good things from this film. The trailer feels in keeping with the original comics and the reliance of that music in the publicity shows that the producers are clearly very clued in on what makes this franchise unique.

Financing Female-Led Films.

Film Find embedded above a TIFF Industry discussion about the financing of female-led films, encompassing what's gone wrong in the past and with an idea for the kinds of action which could and should be taken in the future. The too long to watch version is that because women have always been in the minority on boards and in decision making roles even if a discrimination in creative circles isn't actively brought by men it can be unconsciously. The action plan is essentially to create goals. The best contributor is Anna Serner, the CEO of the Swedish Film Institute were 50% of the productions they finance are by women directors and as she notes it's all very well women filmmakers getting together in support networks and talking but its then up to them to take their talents up the hierarchy.

Frankly, and let's call them what they are, man films made by men about men for men. To unfairly selecting something at random, I watched the exceedingly average Out of the Furnace recently which stars Christian Bale as a mill worker who's trying to protect his younger wayward war veteran brother Casey Affleck. There's more to it than that, but suffice to say there's some punching and shooting and shouting and amongst a cast which includes the likes of Woody Harrelson and Willem Defoe there's room for just one female character, played as she so often is by Zoe Saldana. Now the potential argument is that the film's portraying a world in which there are few women and in which these men don't much interact with women, but my counter-argument would be ask why we have to see that again?

Despite only appearing in about three scenes, it's soon pretty clear that Saldana's character's story arc is a lot more original and interesting than the generically grim nonsense happening elsewhere but the filmmakers, all men, just simply aren't interested in expanding her role beyond girlfriend who leaves and hooks up with someone else in order to cause the protagonist pain. To have done so would have led to a completely different film, but I suppose my point is we've otherwise seen this film. We haven't seen the version of this film which is about her character. Not that there's any reason why this story couldn't be told with women in the lead roles either beyond the usual lazy gender stereotypes and that in and of itself would have created the necessary variance.

But as the discussion touches upon, it's also about recognising that women make up 50% of the world's population and that not having more than one woman in a lead role both behind and in front of the camera is morally wrong. Flicking through the winter preview section of this month's Empire, all I see are pages and pages of films with male protagonists, often with the character's name in the title. Apart from The Hunger Games (and possibly Star Wars), when women are visible it's as part of an ensemble and even then often as a romantic interest or daughter and the vast majority of this work is created by men. But when these things are made and are successful, as the panel agrees it's treated as a fluke rather than something to be turned into a movement and I'd add if they're a failure it stops that kind of film being made again as if that's what's important.

My Favourite Film of 1980.

TV Surprise. One of the benefits of launching into this list without creating any clear definitions as to what constitutes a "film" is that I can essentially make it up as I go along. To suggest a "film" can only be a "film" if it's been theatrically released denies status to a number of clearly very worthy films which have only been broadcast on television or released in a home format.

Perhaps we could look to the intent of the artist or production company, but again now that theatre is being broadcast in cinemas, films projected in theatres and most of it on an iProduct, I'm going to allow myself a certain flexibility. The IMDb lists this the BBC Shakespeares as "TV Movies" which is good enough for me - and both the game shows Pointless and In It To Win It on several occasions.

Does the selection of a video taped studio production require this sort of justification? Probably. But of all the films released in 1980 which due to the list rules I could choose (no repetitions of director or franchise) there isn't anything theatrical which I've actually seen which quite matches up to the esteem I have for the BBC Shakespeare adaptation of Hamlet.

It's quite nice to be able to cross post (original post here) something in from one of my other long term projects, a rare example of something on this list which you can watch legally for free.  This means I don't feel so guilty for having to ignore the Branagh version in the mid-90s part of the list.  It seems quite fitting to have Lalla up there in the week that Doctor Who began again.

For the uninitiated, all three of you, The Hamlet Weblog was and is an effort to watch as many different versions of Hamlet as I can.  This is a sporadic endeavour largely because there's a balance between wanting to see the play but not wanting to see it too much so although there was a period in the past decade when I saw plenty of productions, it's slowed to a trickle.

As is so often the case with these projects, there's the process of reviewing the production afterwards for posterity and there's only so interesting ways you can try and explain why a director might have chosen to include the scenes featuring Fortinbras.  Or not.

Perhaps I should mention I disagree with my slightly younger self on a few points (Lalla's Ophelia particularly), so greet what follows with all the caution of Laertes when he's visited by the ghost at the start of the play.

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (TV Movie)

I knew when I began this process that there would be certain 'tentpole' productions, so renowned that I'd want to save them and relish them. The BBC Shakespeare Hamlet is one such presentation with its central performance from Derek Jacobi, Patrick Stewart's Claudius and Claire Bloom's Gertrude. But for this fanboy there's an extra level of interest because glancing through the cast list beforehand it would be quite easy to say 'I can't believe it's not Doctor Who'.

In casting terms that means Geoffrey Beavers who played the Doctor's nemesis The Master during the eighties, Lalla Ward (Ophelia), who famously companioned Tom Baker's Time Lord as Romana (before marrying him briefly in real life) and Jacobi who would later go on to play a version of the Doctor on an audio cd (Deadline), The Master in an animated story for the BBC website (The Scream of the Shalka) and is soon to appear in an episode of the new television series (Utopia).

But a range of actors who filled bit part roles in Hamlet would go on to do the same in Who. Geoffrey Bateman (Guildenstern) played Dymond in The Nightmare of Eden), Emrys James (First Player) was Aukon in State of Decay, Peter Burroughs (Player) was the Jester in The King's Demons, Peter Benson (Second Gravedigger) essayed the role of Bor in Terminus, Stuart Fell (Player) has been a whole vast range of different characters including Alpha Centauri in The Curse of Peladon and Reginald Jessop (Messenger) was type cast as a Servant in a number of episodes.

That connection continues behind the camera as the production is kinetically directed by Rodney Bennett who helmed a range of stories for that series in the same period (The Ark in Space, The Sontaran Experiment and The Masque of Mandragora), the fights were co-ordinated by B.H. Barry (The Mind Robber and Four To Doomsday) and the vision mixed by Shirley Coward (The Tenth Planet and Remembrance of the Daleks). The music too is supplied by that series' main composer during the Baker era, Dudley Simpson and indeed one of the few distractions is when Simpson's familiar brass section clashes in between acts or scenes, so redolent of a cliff hanger or the attack of a Wyrrrn.

This is a wonderful production. Tied though it is to the BBC drama department's idiom of the time, all studio bound, multi-camera setups shot on video, it straddles the divide between pure theatre and television and is one of the jewels in the BBC Shakespeare series, so traditional in many ways but radical in others. Perhaps acknowledging the limitations of the medium, Bennett favours performances over setting, a decision that pays dividends.

Series producer Cedric Messina's hope was that the big roles should be played by renowned actors and Jacobi certainly fitted the bill, having seen him in a famous 1977 West End production (more on which at a later date). At the planned time of taping, Jacobi was contracted to play Richard II on stage, so Messina waited until he would be free and thank goodness he did -- this recording captures one of the best characteristics of the role I've ever seen.

I don't think I've seen Jacobi give a poor performance -- even in Evolution: Underworld he manages to keep his dignity. What makes this so special is that the actor absolutely understands the range of emotions that Hamlet is dragged through and is able to successfully layer in the sheer frustration of not being able to carry out his dead father's wishes either because of the situation or his own fallibilities. Watch his face during The Mousetrap as he realises that his uncle hasn't reacted to the mime of the death of Gonzago and that he'll actually have to talk him through the deed, hammering home the message that he knows of the murder.

He's so very vulnerable too, slightly nervous, never entirely sure of his actions even when he's addressing the audience during soliloquys; rather like other fourth wall breakers in such films as High Fidelity, Alfie or Ferris Bueller's Day Off, there's a bond of trust between him and us as he imparts his feelings -- a connection which isn't granted to Claudius when he too sits alone and faces the emotional consequences of his actions (Stewart looks away from the lense even in close up). Only towards the end does Hamlet's loyalty really shift to his good friend Horatio, loyally played by Robert Swann with just a hint of homo-erotic tension.

It's also a very droll turn as Jacobi mines the seam of black comedy that Shakespeare has threaded through the dialogue that I've seen so few other actors take advantage of. Some moments are laugh out loud funny, such as his treatment of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, here portrayed as nothing more than acquaintances suddenly dropping in unannounced rather like that email you sometimes get from someone you hardly knew at school who's signed up to Friends Reunited.

Some of this is made possible because of the choice to use a near complete text, allowing the actors the space to provide a more complete psychological arc for their characters. In this reading Claudius becomes a full blooded antagonist with almost as much screen time as Hamlet, Stewart relishing the opportunity to show both sides of the character, the public statesman who is privately guilt ridden. That tension is particularly clear in his dealings with a grief stricken Laertes (David Robb), nervously turning parental and sibling loss to his advantage.

There's certainly a grey area as to who the audience should be sympathising with. Although Claudius's murder of Hamlet Snr is unconscionable there's an inference that he took the action for the good of the country to help the peace process with Fortinbras who to my understanding lost part of his kingdom in a previous war. To an extent it's almost as though Hamlet isn't seeing the bigger picture, putting his own revenge plot ahead of the country's needs, Denmark's strength. This production makes plain that if Hamlet Snr hadn't visited his son the stable status quo would have continued -- it's Hamlet Jnr's plans which lead to the death of a family and the downfall of the kingdom. Comedy, tragedy, irony.

It's no pleasure though to report that I don't think Lalla Ward's Ophelia really works. Perhaps it's because her noble Romana in Doctor Who is so effective that here she seems defeated by the text, never once coming across as really being Laertes sister or in love with Hamlet. Only later, during the descent into madness does the performance gain power but even then it's a forced mess of histrionics. Claire Bloom's Gertrude, by contrast, exudes nobility and a surprising eroticism (frankly she's a babe). Throughout there's an implication that her marriage with old Hamlet was rather boring one and her shift to his brother not too difficult a choice and indeed that the bond with her son was broken long before his father's death.

As Susan Willis notes in her wonderful book, The BBC Shakespeare Plays: Making The Canon, from an initial push to produce backdrops that attempt to create a realistic period setting for each of the plays, as the productions drifted onward, taste shifted from representation to abstract with Don Homfray's designs for Hamlet being one of the first experiments. The exteriors then occur in a large empty studio, a grey void ringed with flooring at a slight incline, filled with mist for the battlement scenes, the sounds of the sea for the departing of Laertes and soil and a grave for Ophelia's funeral (which includes the sight of poor Lalla wrapped in drapes lying actually in the grave with mud dropped on top of her).

The interiors are even more experimental. Partitions have been painted with columns and vistas, bookshelves and libraries, paintings and wardrobes but they're generally used without regard for what's on them. During the scene when Claudius and Polonius spy on Hamlet's disposition with Ophelia they hide behind a wall with a landscape painted on to imply the view from the palace and Hamlet opens up the wall to see if he can find them hiding. It's the representation of a palace without regard for its geography which is by turns confusing and exhilarating and could be interpreted as an example of Hamlet losing his grip on reality, of the details of his surroundings losing their importance in comparison to his cause.

Having bought the box set, I'm slowly working my way through all of these BBC Shakespeare 'performances', geekily in production order minus the histories which I'm going to watch together at the end. Some have been better than others but I wouldn't describe any of them as awful. Inevitably I've loved the Measure for Measure and the As You Like It is far from the disaster its reputation suggests (with it just see a young Helen Mirren and an old David Prowse acting in the same scene). If the Romeo and Juliet shows signs of early nerves, Twelfth Night is a lovely romp and The Tempest has real power. But I think this Hamlet almost towers above them all and will be hard to beat.

Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.

Film Students are slowly beginning to return to university or beginning their courses and at around this time, ten years ago, I began my MA in Screen Studies at the University of Manchester. Setting aside the nostalgia implications, a bit, I've decided to celebrate by creating a series of posts highlighting some of my favourite pieces of film related academia.

We begin with Laura Mulvey's essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, a pdf of which is available here.

Mulvey is a feminist theorist who's currently professor of film and media studies at Birkbeck, University of London but for many years worked at the BFI. This seminal essay published in 1975, took a psychoanalytical approach to the representation of women in cinema as objects of desire, encapsulated in the concept of "the male gaze".

At its most basic level this amounts to a moment in a film when a shot lingers on a female form, then cuts to a man enjoying said form then cuts back, and the notion is that through editing we've been trained to appreciate the woman in a particular way.

Here's a video filled with examples that seems to have been gathered by a student for class project on just this topic:

At university I was tasked with writing about this in relation to particular films on a couple of occasions and posted the first, about The Breakfast Club here focusing on the "Allison reveal" scene, which through modern eyes, as with all minor pygmaliona, looks utterly wrong.  Andrew should accept her for who she is.

The problem, as Mulvey identified forty years ago, is that it utterly destroys the agency of the female character because it becomes about her appearance rather than her existence as a human being.  It's about what she can do visually for the man rather than her own autonomy.

This is even true when a male character isn't in the scene, since the use of camera angles puts the viewer in that position (with the potential to suggest that a male camera operator, director and cinematographer are also fulfilling this requirement).  Here's another video with plenty of example of the toe to head shot.

Whilst this kind of photography is still prevalent, the trend seems to be that if a film has a solid female protagonist, this kind of shot does not exist. I don't remember seeing it in Jurassic World, for example, or Max Max: Fury Road.  I don't think Paul Feig uses it much either.

When they do occur, in MARVEL films for example, they tend to be counterbalanced in the opposite direction (Thor), though it's important to note that the implications of the female gaze and also how all of this works within queer theory are also markedly different.

But it's so ingrained in the language of cinema now it hasn't gone and is still in use, partly because we as viewers have become trained to expect it.  There's an argument that the reason there was a negative reaction from some about Bryce Dallas Howard's character in Jurassic World is because the film didn't (again as far as I can remember) have Chris Pratt ogling her.

The Magician's Apprentice.

TV Fucking-A! No sober reflection from me here as we embark on another series of Saturday evening ministrations. After last year, my expectations for these twelve weeks have been lowered to such an extent, anything half competent probably would have done, episode one of The Space Museum as opposed to the other three if you will, and yet here we are, judging by the Twitters, all relaxing in the splendour of watching the show that we know and love reconstituting itself before our eyes. Look at a something like The Magician’s Apprentice with its swagger and general sense of “Yeah, we’re back” and it’s impossible not to think, “He knows he done wrong last time. Moffat knows he done wrong.”

Dispassionately (right?) you might wonder if another idea would simply to have produced an excellent example of a more traditional piece of Doctor Who, with the Time Lord and Clara landing somewhere, chasing about for forty-five minutes heading into a cliffhanger and underscoring the fundamentals of the series, demonstrating that Doctor Who’s an event no matter what it’s about, not unlike the classical mode, a Terror of the Autons affair or Horror of Fang Rock. This is actually a moment when such a thing could have made sense, since a companion’s already in situ and a new incarnation isn’t being introduced. Last time we were in this space was The Impossible Astronaut, so yes, the other approach would have been something neutral.

I can relate. When the show was non-televisual, after a while it existed in two streams, the past Doctor material which archaeologically excavated the show’s history and the Eighth Doctor material which for the most part didn’t. Arguably it went off the rails slightly when it tried to be too experimental, the Divergent Universe on audio and whatever it was Lawrence Miles was doing in the books, but there was always a sense of trying to move forward, do something new. But as the reaction to the Divergent Universe on audio and whatever it was Lawrence Miles was doing in the books and arguably the modern tv equivalent which was last year’s season demonstrate, if you don’t get it completely right, you’re sunk. As is the case with most genre material, we want it different, just not too different.

Having acknowledged that, let’s just throw it out of an airlock (a proper one not something pretending to be an alien planet) and remind ourselves that the part of the mode of the revival is beginning each season with a big brassy occasion and that however much we tell ourselves the Weight Watchers Chocolate Roll is tasty enough and will do, what we really want is the Cadburys. We’ve been so spoilt now, that not for us any more a bog standard alien invasion story or base under siege. Which is a bit weird when you consider that during the Davies era, pretty much all his season openers were just that. Go back and read a synopsis of Smith and Jones some time in the context of tonight’s episode. For goodness sake.

Now, we’re simply not happy with a season opener unless the Doctor’s running to or from something with his current companion(s) wondering what the hell’s going on. Moffat knew that as he wrote The Impossible Astronaut and here he is again, but with near Sisyphian task of pulling back to the fold those of us who strayed and thought he’d lost his mind when putting something as expressively appalling as The Caretaker or Kill The Moon into production and the way to do that is through our fan gene. Taking the chocolate roll metaphor to stretching point, The Magician’s Apprentice is the televisual equivalent of the Tesco Express that has just moved in around the corner with its aisles filled with pastries and cakes within five minutes walking distance. Sticking with the Weight Watchers has been an act of will. But I’m six stones lighter than when The Name of the Doctor was broadcast so …

Davros. Fucking Davros. You and me both know for how many years I’ve been making that joke about every mysterious figure which has darkened the narrative’s door would turn out to be Davros and finally, there he is, pre and post the Big Finish spin-off series (which hasn’t been contradicted yet – that began when he was sixteen years old). I think you can imagine me laughing rather than doing this which was presumably the reaction they were going for, but it’s so rare to be genuinely surprised at such an early stage in a season’s development. Excellent build up too, with the false sense of security surrounding the non-descript battlefield, which if you’ve heard the bullshit rumour that was floating around a couple of days ago, led me to wonder if this young chap was actually the Doctor.

There are multiple questions about this. If young Davros’s existence is pre-Time War, then how’s the Doctor able to go back in time to save or kill the boy? True, such things have become a bit fluid lately, as per Listen - in which Clara confusingly visits the past of a planet which is “lost” in the future – but even the Doctor’s progress through the time vortex wasn’t that easy back in Genesis and he didn’t have a time lock so stringent it sent Dalek Caan mad when he traversed it in order to retrieve Davros. You see, this is what happens when you stack and episode like this with mythology, sections of it are bound to topple over. Perhaps we’ll be gifted with an explanation next week, but probably not.  We'll talk more after the story resolves itself about the effects of the Doctor stepping into his foe's timeline.  Perhaps Hayley Westenra will sing on the soundtrack this time around.

In any case, the callback to Tom’s speech from Genesis was the last thing I expected to hear to tonight which means of course it’s probably just the thing I needed to hear. As the clips tumbled out of the speakers surrounding Julian Bleach (a feat of archival casting worthy of a John Wells drama in an episode filled with them), I almost expected Joseph Lidster’s Terra Firma to put in an appearance to represent the Eighth incarnation and felt slightly cheated when it didn’t. But then Tom’s face actually appeared and those sodding wires and I forgave them everything, even if it wasn’t clear exactly who captured the footage. In universe I mean. David Maloney directed the episode but the TARDIS Datacore entry is a bit thin on facts when it comes to camera operators.

Such are the way of things in an anniversary year, when Moffat’s in the mood to produce his version of The Five Doctors. With all of the references to the Davies era in the episode, it’s impossible not to think of the story as being in some way a tenth birthday celebration, even to the point of the Doctor holding up a gun, not just to a Dalek this time, but their creator. Oh well good. Not the gun thing - hopefully somebody will be there to stop him - because sometimes he needs someone to stop him - but the acknowledgement that although this is all one story, that something immense happened ten years ago. Incidentally, I’m also convinced I saw Martha’s silhouette in The Maldovarium so part of me’s hopeful Freema was able to make some time in her Sense8 schedule.

But this was still very solidly of the Moffat era. Anyone else think Kate and rest of the UNIT were especially uselessless in this episode with Clara essentially telling them the plot? What was with all the freezer-like temperatures in the base? I’m having a lapse in memory but wasn’t a cold environments one of the requirements of the Zygon race? Were we looking at the real UNIT or their doppelgangers from the other anniversary story and if that’s the case why didn’t Clara pick up on it as she was striding about being oh so clever? I expect I’m reading too much into a slightly overaggressive piece of CG, but this could also be a new item of mythology to deal with autonomous Zygons lacking stored imprints, a different strain to the version portrayed in Alan Barnes’s Eighth Doctor audio Death in Blackpool.

Missy’s back too and we’ll forgive them the winking manner of it, the yes I’m alive and can’t even be bothered with explanation because "So you escaped from Castrovalva..." was weak mead even in the 80s. Michelle Gomez feels like she’s been playing the character for years, but there’s a clear re-modulation of the approach in comparison to Dark Water with its Dutch angled push-ins and strange gesticulations, a realisation that a downbeat menace has a more long term gain and funnier in some respects when she’s bluffing away. Best moment (because it’s supposed to be): her approbation at being lower, if not non-existent in the Doctor’s pecking order of arch enemies than Davros. Oh and clearly not dying again at the end.

Her re-emergence also sees Jenna Coleman up her game as she’s forced to rationalise how her character can interact in any kind of meaningful with the Time Lord who slaughtered her boyfriend and put to the back of her mind seeing the deaths of those UNIT agents at the moment when she’s supposed to be working with this lunatic. Her approach is to mainly follow the requirements of the script which sometimes puts her the companion mode to Missy. But watch her in the background of shot, especially her eyes and we're sure that at any moment she could treat this murderess with all the diplomacy that Amy Pond did with Madame Kevorkian (taking us right back to Davros’s speech from Journey’s End about how the Doctor trains soldiers even if he doesn’t mean to).

Is she dead? Hmm, probably not yet, although given yesterday’s announcement which now feels like a piece of stage management rather than post-tabloid damage control, I’m not entirely discounting the idea that they shot footage specially for the trailers featuring her in other locales and that the synopsis for all the episodes after this are a complete blag. Unless Clara’s being played by a different, much younger actress. Or they’re different Claras from across history. Part of me even wishes this extermination was real, due to the poetry of a facet of the character having been somewhat introduced as being a Dalek and her now being killed by one. Well, not poetry exactly, but using a phrase like “narrative bookends” is a bit clunky in this context.  Or one of Lucas's rhymes.

Bestride all of this is Capaldi who now, after a shakier start than we’re used to in the revivals or expected, feels like the Doctor, feels like the same man who played tiddlywinks with Lenin and eloped with Marilyn Monroe, the benevolent alien deploying rudeness as a prop rather than simply his mode. Oh and stop it with your harrumphing over the guitar playing and the tank – this is precisely the sort of business you were expecting from an incarnation played by this actor and were disappointed when you largely didn’t get it last year. I know I was. Everything about Capaldi here is more confident, from his line readings, to his physicality, to his hair, which has finally decided to do that. A lot. The clothes help. The Pertwee homage of last year was fine, but the relaxed David Banks homage, albeit with a darker jacket over the t-shirt, feels more like him.  It's also about the feels, essentially, finally.

Just as an aside, notice how the two prologues that accompanied this episode online actually deepened the experience of the episode, especially The Doctor's Meditation which appeared on Facebook earlier today featuring more from the Doctor's friend Bors played by Daniel Hoffman-Gill (who I'm sure is one of the blokes from that horrendous deodorant commercial which filled the cinemas this year with the dance-off in the middle).  After seeing those five or minutes, we have a real connection to character which makes his fate in the actual episode all the more horrible.  Although paradoxically releasing it before the broadcast of the episode did rather ruin the reveal of where the Doctor is and also one or two of his jokes.

With all this talk of characters and actors, it’s all too easy to ignore the production elements, what's changed from last year, what hasn't. Having expected the show to return to the editing style of Eleventh’s era, perhaps the more interesting aspect is that scene durations are still surprisingly long. One of the more striking choices last year was how some dialogue scenes continued for whole minutes and the general lack of parallel storylines and The Magician’s Apprentice still has those. The teaser is really just two long scenes and there’s a lot of characters chatting in rooms, sitting or standing, admittedly sometimes very large rooms in the case of the arena.

But it doesn’t feel static. Although we don't quite reach the level of editing inherent in something like The Crimson Horror, the cameras are certainly moving around a lot more, shooting from a greater number of angles than last year where directors in some cases seemed to have been asked to provide a mutation of the multi-camera set up of the 60s to 80s.  Now, there’s less of a sense of being able to see which scenes would have been shot on film back then. Everything has the same visual viscosity, not that the style isn’t still markedly different to Blink, Hettie MacDonald’s previous credit for the series. Plenty of the episode is similarly about atmosphere however, notably around the young Davros scenes. For a few brief moments up front, I was somewhat convinced we were about to see a return to The War Games.

But no, it’s Skaro, it’s the Daleks and its multiple Daleks from many eras including what looked like a CG recreation of an classic version in the wilderness. The “new” paradigm’s pretty much dumped now isn’t it? Not since the Mechanoids has a new Dalek related creation been set to one side and good riddance to them. Unless there was one there and I didn’t notice it. The return of the battle-model from Remembrance and such is another attempt to re-engage us older viewers and we’re suckers even though my wilderness years birthed fandom inoculates me a little bit, probably. Armies with a single, authoritarian visual look feel more impressive and deadly than this ragtag, whose slightly jaded appearance resembles the Dalek equivalent of LINDA, even if they clearly have just as much of a destructive capability.

As is the case with two-parters, of this season is supposed to have several, we won’t really know if this is able to maintain the same level of squee-inducing slack-jawed intensity. We fans know that no matter what’s in the throw-forward trailer, we can never completely trust what we see with our eyes and the chances of any of those three having gone are pretty slim. Perhaps my biggest complement is that I wanted to watch it again straight after it had finish, which is quite something when you considered that some of the discs in my copy of the blu-ray set from last year still haven’t left the trays in the amaray case. Welcome back Doctor and welcome back Doctor Who. Here’s to the next eleven weeks and Christmas. Fucking-A!