Destination TARGET:

Books Let's begin. An Unearthly Child is an excellent example of how the (I can't believe I'm about to use this word) late Terrance Dicks was able to take even the most incoherent of Doctor Who television stories and make it lucid on the page.

His first key decision is to allow the whole of the first episode to encompass half of the book, cramming the final three, apparently far less interesting episodes into the latter half, emphasising, let's be honest, the best bit of the whole story.

But it's also much clearer that Barbara is the prime mover in forcing Ian and especially the Doctor to taking a humanitarian approach to the injured Za.  While both of them want to run away back to the TARDIS and leave him to his fate, Barbara is very clear about the moral choice they have to make.

Not only that but it also reveals that what would become storytelling staples later started here.  The TARDIS team are captured almost as soon as they arrive and have to find ingenious ways to escape, only really succeeding when they work together.

We also enjoy our first regime change, even if its not the most altruistic reasons.  In proving Kal to be a murderous liar, the Doctor effectively replacing him with someone they assume will be more pliable in their fate.  That Za's also impossible to reason with just shows he needs practice.

There is one other copy editing oddity which I hadn't heard about before picking up the book.  On the page it reads like literary deja vu and took a couple of readings to spot it.

Here's a transcript in case you're having difficulty with my dodgy scan:
"Za moved cautiously into the clearing, heading straight for the bushes where Ian and his companions were hiding. From somewhere behind him, there came a low growl.

Za swung round. It was the voice of the tiger, the long-toothed on, the old enemy of the people.

Granto the clearing, heading straight for the bushes where Ian and his companions were hiding. From somewhere behind him, there came a low growl.

Za swung round. It was the voice of the tiger, the long-toothed on, the old enemy of the people"
Which is either an error from the original transcript which was copied during typesetting (this is from the first edition), or simply a snafu at the printers.  I wonder if it was caught and corrected in later editions or it stuck.

Bergman: A Year in the Life is on BBC Four on Saturday.

Film As it says in the post title, the documentary, Bergman: A Year in the Life, is on BBC Four on Saturday at 9pm.  Here's a link to the documentary's BBC programme page, where it'll be available after broadcast.

It'll be followed at 10:55 by The Seventh Seal one of my top five favourite films of all time.  Here's where The Seventh Seal's programme page. This is a rare television broadcast.  Judging by a BBC Genome search, it was last on the BBC in 1995 as part of a wider Ingmar Bergman season, although FilmFour broadcast it once in 2009 and three times in 2011.

The eighty or so best films of the 21st century and some others.

Film Best films of a thing listicles aren't usually something to become enraged by. People have opinions, I have opinions those opinions don't usually match.

Yesterday NowTV set me up with a month's subscription to reality TV streaming service Hayu and even if just scrolling through the content turns me straight into Max von Sydow in Hannah and Her Sisters, I know there are people who find great comfort in watching rich people being silly and who am I to argue?  Who cares what a snob like me thinks?

But, friends, The Guardian's 100 best films of the 21st century is bullshit.

Oh no, hold on, I can't argue with the film in the top slot, even if Peter Bradshaw's longer analysis misses what makes it truly great, that as David Bordwell's analysis shows, it changes the language of cinema in a way which we're still seeing the effects of.

Plus it finds room for Stories We Tell and Gravity and 13th and Margaret (although it doesn't specify the three hour version, which is the true masterpiece).

The rest of the list, though, is filled with some absolute howlers.

Topper most: 

Inception isn't included.

The Guardianistas have The Dark Knight as their Christopher Nolan choice which is fine even if having it as the only one comic book movie when that is the prevailing and most prominent film genre of the past twenty years is not.  Take you pick of Marvel films.  They'll all do.

Except this list also includes Borat, which hasn't aged well and now looks like a "borderline" racist folly, the existentialist bore Anomalisa as the Charlie Kaufmann choice when Synecdoche, New York exists (as does everything Ardmann's released) and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (which admittedly I haven't seen but can't be a better Tarantino than any of the others he's released in the past two decades).

But not including Inception here, is like ignoring The Matrix when listing 90s films.

As I proposed back in my original feverish review (nine years ago) (I'm old and so is this blog), Inception is "a film that has all the excitement of a typical summer action blockbuster but with all the intelligence and weight and beauty of a Tarkovsky film". 

It demonstrates that the audience is crying out for films which ask weighty questions and has great thematic heft as well as spectacle, not mention its visionary mix of practical and digital set design notably in the corridor sequence.

There are other howlers.  Ted rather than Bridesmaids, no Chalet Girl, a preponderance of miserablist films in general (is Nebraska really better than Hail Caesar?) but leaving out Inception shows a certain lack of appreciation for film history.  Fools.

The Gloria Bell Soundtrack Album.

Film Sebastián Lelio's Gloria Bell is a pretty good English language remake of the director's own 2013 film Gloria, this time starring Julianne Moore as the lonely divorcee who meets an unreliable jerk played by John Turturro.

It's fine.  As ever, Moore's performance elevates the otherwise pretty bland material.

But what really powers the drama is Matthew Herbert's score, an electronic orchestral wonderland which, if you're watching with headphones as I did, marinades your ears in major key as it charts the protagonists emotional ups and down.

The whole thing is on Spotify:

But honestly the title track is the most alluring, with its four note hook and automatic earwig, evoking the highs of new love.

About the only oddity is that some of the tracks sound like they're about to head off into an electronic free jazz improvisation of the K9 and Company theme:

Or perhaps that's just my fan gene taking a bath.

New BBC Archive pages launch.

TV The BBC have officially launched their relaunch of their archive pages with a long press release stressing the thousands of clips, many transposed from their Twitter feed and Facebook:
"The launch date coincides with the 50th anniversary of Nationwide, the early evening precursor to the One Show that featured quirky stories from around the UK between 1969 and 1983. Many of these delightful characters and oddball reports are finding a fresh worldwide audience online. The website brings together the best of these in an easy-to-use way that viewers can explore at their leisure."
It is of course and incredible resource but I still have a couple of suggestions:

(1)  Tags.  It would be really handy if the clips and their pages had clickable tags on them, for programme titles or key content.  That way the user could click on a programme title and find all the clips which appeared on the programme (hopefully with the additional option of sorting by date).  Or everything featuring William Shakespeare.  That sort of thing.

(2) Better organisation and linkage with elsewhere on the BBC website. This Face to Face with Anthony Burgess doesn't also appear on The Late Show page even as a clip and there isn't a link through to that page which would be very useful.  The BBC website also already contains a trove of clips on those programme pages which go unseen, so it seems right that there should be more cross-pollination.

(3)  Why aren't the whole programmes featured here as "clips" also on the iPlayer?  Is it the upload quality of the streams or money?  I bet it's money.

(4)  The links through to the BBC Genome are helpful, but it would be equally useful if a reciprocal link appeared there too.  This also needs to be more consistent.  There are loads of programmes which don't have this useful information on their BBC Archive page.

But all in all this is a fabulous time hole, and don't forget the clips page is in backwards chronological order so you can keep an eye out for new clips as they're added.  Hopefully there'll eventually be a workflow which causes clips added to the Twitter feed to automatically be cross posted here.

"Gotta get up, gotta out ..."

Music Oh so that's why the oft played Harry Nilson song in the Netflix dramedy Russian Doll seems so familiar. Good grief.

The Further Adventures of Lucie Miller: Volume One.

Audio Barring anniversary and special releases, of all the Big Finish Doctors, Eighth has had the most linear of release schedules rarely offering missing adventures at least in audio form. Although the era which follows on from the original Lucie Miller series and the Time War boxes have been released in parallel lately there hasn't been much in the way of trying to shoehorn stories into old gaps and even then they've been added retrospectively, as per the Mary Shelley trilogy. Now here we are with four new proper Lucie Miller adventures, wedged in after Human Resources and as I'm having it, before all the various Short Trips. While it was nice to have Sheridan reading a couple of those, there's nothing quite like hearing the bantz between her and Paul McGann, clearly enjoying each other's company both as characters and actors. The "VOLUME ONE" on the front cover implies more boxes are planned and that's excellent news. If it's good enough for Adric to have a host of new stories set before his demise, it's certainly good enough for Lucie Bleeding Miller.

The Dalek Trap

For Lucie's first show back, Nick Briggs offers us a Companion Chronicles style Doctor-lite episode of the kind which can only happen on audio because he doesn't speak for most of it. Returning to the role after six or seven years, Sheridan takes full advantage of the airtime to re-introduce the character at the moment when she'd broken through the shields of the more cantankerous Eighth from that first series leading to a return of the more adventurous man from the start of his Big Finish years. After stanning Charley for years, it took me a month or three to warm to Lucie back then, but now I can see how a character who originally seemed constructed to fit the Ace/Sam/Izzie/Rose formula has a more chaotic, relatable energy than those guys.  The story itself feels like a  purposefully formulaic mix of amnesia, being trapped inside a black hole and Daleks saying unusual things, lots of gracenotes (sorry) of the period.  Will the Darkness be revealed as the "big bad" of the boxset or something being set up for later in Eighth's timeline?  There are few things scarier than a known unknown.

The Revolution Game

God, this is refreshing.  Although both the ongoing boxes and The Time War contain stand alone episodes, they're always within the structure of a much wider story or lead in to one another, whereas this is a return to first principles, the Doctor and his plus one landing on planets and overthrowing governments.  Much as they did with the first few Baker series, there's been a real effort here to capture the feel of the original audios, with their quick pace, cinematic "visuals" and giant personalities.  Paul sounds like his in his element too, not having to deal with the baggage of a much older version of his character, a man who's seen too much (although of course if you count the books and comics as coming before the audios, he's already been around for a bit!).  Alice Cavender's play is in stark contrast with Kerblam!  Where that TV adventure ended with the status quo, the giant corporation still intact, here there's no question that the conglomerate ruling half the galaxy will go down, their infrastructural importance be damned.

The House on the Edge of Chaos

"***** ***** ** *****!" I shouted in the street on hearing the twist in Eddie Robson's superb little run around, but it's such a spoiler for this and another classic audio so you'll have to make do with asterisks. Another authentic episode which even without the mid-story cliffhanger from the olden days would fit perfectly in the tea time Sunday slot on BBC7. The Doctor and Lucie randomly find themselves on a colony world in which the cast of La Règle du Jeu live within an ever growing Winchester Mystery House, terraforming by house expansion. With strong themes about the arbitrary nature of the class system and how some justify their positions by explaining that it's the best way of keeping order, like The Revolution Game it coincidentally glances towards the upheavals in British life almost to second, something Doctor Who has always had a facility for. Some project business: Roger Vanisttart, whose last Big Finish credit was in a range of roles in Dead London which opened the second season of the "With Lucie Miller" stories, returns as the reclusive colony leader, just the sort of Roger Vanisttart role that Roger Vanisttart was born to play.

Island of the Fendahl

Definitive. With Alan Barnes writing and Nick Briggs directing, the Eighth Doctor equivalent of getting The Blues Brothers together, this had the potential to be something special and sure enough it's not just the perfect way to end this boxed set, but one of the best of this incarnations stories period. A Hinchcliffian remodel for The Wicker Man in the Whoniverse, with a police officer venturing from the mainland to isolated rock filled with cultists worshipping an ancient power this is also a prequel/sequel to a classic Who story, draws together threads from the rest of the boxed set and suggests a new bunch of unseen adventures for these two, it's catnip for a completist. Of special note: for various reasons two sets of characters are lost in a set of underground tunnels and through sound design alone we completely appreciate that they're in different areas but walking similar paths and criss crossing one another, cutting across the audio space in a chilling way. More please.

The BBC and World War Two.

History The History of the BBC pages have been updated with a huge archive of material from World War II in which corporation staff and others describe their experiences of the war and what it was like to work under those conditions, attempting to inform the public despite the pressures from government and the resources available.

Here's a page about celebrity during the period, with audio of General Charles De Gaulle broadcasting in French to his people from BBC Forces Radio:
"France had fallen, and the military commander had just arrived in London post-haste from Bordeaux. Now, in exile, he entered the BBC’s studios and sat before the microphone to broadcast to his fellow countrymen and women a fierce repudiation of Pétain’s armistice agreement with Nazi Germany.‘As the irrevocable words flew out upon their way’, he recalled, I felt within myself a life coming to an end’. Broadcasting, he said, had provided him with ‘a powerful means of war’.De Gaulle would broadcast from the BBC studios on several more occasions. But for him, the people of France, and for the BBC, this first broadcast represented a dramatic and vivid moment in the war."
There's a mountain of material here and I can't wait to set aside a day to work my way through it all.

"If we fight like animals, we die like animals!"

TV Details have been announced for the fourth quarter Doctor Who blu-ray release and it's to be season 26, Sylvester McCoy's finale and the franchise's last television gasp before it headed into a television coma for a while.

Here's the all important pre-order page on Amazon, the link to which I've remembered to add an affiliate code to for once.  Here it is again.

Here's a tablet friendly picture of the box which you can also click on:

Isn't modern technology great?  Yesterday I sent a copy of our phone bill to the printer from a Kindle Fire while I was sat on the toilet.  Cuh.

The gubbins:
Rare Restored Extended Cuts
• The Curse Of Fenric VHS Extended Version
• The Curse Of Fenric DVD Special Edition
• Battlefield VHS Extended Version
• Battlefield DVD Special Edition

5.1 surround sound & isolated scores
• On all 14 broadcast episodes, plus 5.1 sound on all extended versions of The Curse Of Fenric and Battlefield.

Behind the Sofa
• New episodes with Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, plus companions Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton, Anneke Wills and Jodie-Whittaker-era writers Pete McTighe & Joy Wilkinson.

Showman - the Life of John Nathan-Turner

• A feature-length look at the life and career of Doctor Who’s longest-serving producer, who fought to keep the programme on-air during the 1980s. Contributors include Peter Davison and Colin Baker.

Making ‘The Curse of Fenric’
• A brand new documentary featuring Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, Tomek Bork, Nicholas Parsons, Cory Pulman, Marek Anton, Ian Briggs, Andrew Cartmel, Mark Ayres and Ian Collins featuring unseen behind-the-scenes footage and photographs.

In Conversation
• Matthew Sweet chats to companion Sophie Aldred.

The Writers’ Room
• Ben Aaronovitch, Marc Platt, Ian Briggs, Rona Munro and Andrew Cartmel discuss their work on Season 26.

Becoming The Destroyer
• Actor Marek Anton and prosthetics designer Stephen Mansfield recall the creation of one of Doctor Who’s best ever monsters.

Blu-Ray trailer
• Sophie Aldred back in character as Ace.

Brand new Ghost Light extended workprint
Unseen studio footage
Rare archive treats
Convention footage
HD photo galleries
Scripts, costume designs, rare BBC production files
and other gems from our PDF archive

And lots more!
It's curious that the "brand new" Ghost Light extended workprint isn't listed with the other extended cuts. Perhaps it's due to it being unrestored? Has a timestamp on it like the original deleted scenes on the dvd release?

 Either way, we now know how the producers of these treasure troves will be bulking out four story seasons so that they boxes match the others on the shelves and justify people buying these stories over again. This thing is across seven discs.

Curiously, half the boxsets released so far have been the final seasons for Doctors.  It would make sense if that was also the case for Troughton.  It's the most complete of his seasons, with the missing episodes of The Invasion adequately animated.

Lawk knows what they'll do about The Space Pirates; John Cura left us before the story went out so there aren't any telesnaps and precious few production stills to work from (which makes animating them difficult too due to the paucity of reference images).

My guess is that they'll have a go with what they have.  The narrated audio soundtrack with production stills and the fragments or screenshots from fragments when necessary.  The film trims of the spaceships shots should look spectacular on bluray.

Anyway, Season 26 is due for release on Christmas Eve Eve which given that every boxset has been pushed back from its original release date so far seems incredibly ambitious.  So I won't be expecting it for Christmas.  January probably.  All together now ...

Oh Terry. :(

TV There's not a lot more that can be added to the tributes to Terrance Dicks, one the key architects on Doctor Who, whose death was announced today.

 I didn't meet him and only really understood who he was once I began reading Doctor Who Magazine on a regular basis in the early noughties and purchasing all of the DVDs.

 I was only ever really a casual viewer during the show's first heyday and certainly didn't read any of his TARGET novelisations growing up - Star Trek and Transformers were more my thing. 

But over time I began to appreciate what a presence he was and how much he'd shaped this franchise which I'd grown to love. 

So if you'll forgive me, in tribute I offer this reprint of a review of his seminal non-fiction work, The Making of Doctor Who, co-written with Malcolm Hulke.   

I like to think that he's just stepping in to a celestial production office were Hulke and Barry Letts are pleased to see him because another script's just fallen through and they need a replacement as quickly as possible.

Originally published Friday, February 18, 2011.

The first non-fiction book published about the series, Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke’s The Making of Doctor Who is mythologised by fans of a certain age as the moment when they properly realised the breadth of the history of the series, thanks to a thorough episode guide and biographies of the all the Doctors and companions who had appeared on the show prior to the then current incumbent Tom Baker. How they must have trembled, suddenly desperate to read the Target novelisation of The Ark with the horrific sounding Monoids and coming to terms with their newly acquired deep knowledge of Mike Yates and Anneke Wills.  All of which I missed because I was only two years old.  Time to catch up.

Reading the book, written by the outgoing producers at this late stage is a strange business, especially after twenty odd years of Doctor Who Magazine and another overlapping decade of dvd releases. Most of the anecdotes herein have been worked over dozens of times since by franchise archivist Andrew Pixley with increasing accuracy, yet it’s impossible not to be swept away by Dicks and Hulke’s interpretation of events which desperately strikes a balance between offering some insight into television production but without losing any of the magic of what’s on screen, a world were Tom isn’t difficult to work with, script editing is a relatively easy business and the technical unions don’t turn the lights off at inopportune moments.

Both authors are well chosen.  Hulke wrote many of the most popular Doctor Who stories, including The War Games, Doctor Who and the Silurians and The Sea Devils.  Dicks was a producer on the show right through the Pertwee era and continued to be a writer not just of the scripts for television but also, as he notes within The Making of ... enough Target novelisations that he could give up the programme to concentrate on those.  Eventually Dicks would go on to write most of the Target books, the former covering most of the eras of the show in his trademark style.  "Teeth and curls" "Open face" that sort of thing.  It's a testament to their legacy that these novelisations are still being turned into audio books.

The first section traces the inception of the series, introduces all of the characters and the actors who played them and lists the monsters who’ve left an impression of the show in the previous decade (sorry Rills). Much of this still serves as the blue print for Doctor Who Magazine’s approach all of these years later, even taking time to debunk the myth of where the Dalek name came from (even though Trivial Pursuit were still using the encyclopedia explanation as a question years later). Each of the companion actors is gives a quote about their time working on the show, including Frazer Hines who informs us that he’d wear football shorts under his kilt so he could get a game directly afterwards.

This was for years the main the source of the collective fan knowledge about how the show started. It’s impossible not read the section about the meeting between Sydney Newman (initial creator) and Donald Wilson (head of series) without thinking of the notorious Doctor Who night sketch with all the swearing, isn’t it about time they finally grant its author Mark Gatiss his wish to bring this chapter properly to television in dramatic form? Certainly there’s enough here for a fiftieth anniversary special in which a brave female producer Verity Lambert battles with the resources available to her then watching as the limelight shines on Terry Nation for creating the Daleks, the moment when the show really took off?

The middle chunk is appropriated by the aforementioned episode guide, which was also the first time many of the stories were collected under single story names for the first time – for the first couple of years individual episodes had often wildly inaccurate titles all to themselves. Culled, I believe, from BBC documents, many of these collective nouns have stuck until the present day appearing on dvd spines but there are still some surprises. The Daleks is given the title of its first episode “The Dead Planet” and it’s “The French Revolution” instead of “The Reign of Terror”. The first story is listed as “An Unearthly Child” the ramifications of which would drag on for many years with fandom fracturing between the "100,000 BC" believers and The "Tribe of Gum".

Like the pagination of the Target novelisations, there’s little consistency as to the length of accompanying synopsii in relation to story length. The Moonbase (4 episodes) nearly fills a page while all twelve episodes of The Dalek Masterplan fill about seven lines which might well be a comment on the amount of padding which would appear in some of these stories. Galaxy Four (4 episodes) is gifted five lines and shockingly it doesn’t seem to miss anything out including the race relations subtext. Brilliantly, one of the previous owners of my copy has gone on to scrawl in pencil all of stories from after “The Hand of Fear” up to and including “Shada” which suggests it was before that story failed to be completed. They’ve also numbered them all, and added crosses, presumably next to the ones they’ve seen. We've all done it.

The final section covers the production of ROBOT, Tom Baker’s first story. This is a major rewrite from the first edition of the book which covered The Sea Devils (and had a constipated looking John Pertwee on the cover) forcing some fans to buy this twice because of new material, a technique which is still being employed on the dvd range even today. In this version, there’s much talk throughout of how this is a show in transition with a new production team, new lead actor and a shift towards telling stories in time and space away from Earth. Which is quite refreshing considering that now, David Tennant was barely off-screen before his incarnation was assigned to merchandising history (with the approach to Christopher Eccleston genuinely Stalinist).

After the subsequent DVD commentary revelations this is pretty tame stuff, it’s not The Writer’s Tale (or The Devil’s Candy for that matter), there are no stories of Dicks, who also wrote Robot, face pressed against a typewriter at 3 o'clock in the morning handwriting a telegram to fanzine editor Jan Vincent-Rudzki revealing his inspiration for turning the story into a King Kong homage or why he took his name off The Brain of Morbius.  The most we discover about the writing process is how it would be an interesting choice to make "the power-mad leader behind the whole scheme" a woman "in these days of women's lib" (which as you can see isn't to say these passages don't sound like Dicks speaking out loud).

Curiously most of the team are referred to by their job title not their name and there are precious few proper anecdotes about the production itself, other than the decision to shoot the whole thing on video though the authors do mention how a producer thought one actor was overplaying the comedy at the expense of the drama, something the director agreed to do something about. I’m assuming that was Tom and I’m assuming he didn’t take any notice.  Some of the episodes overran, some underran but generally the shoot appears to come off without a hitch.  My favourite part is the opening paragraph which prosaically sets about explaining production codes "no one had allowed for the show's amazingly long life".  You're not kidding.  Now we've reached proper numbers and no one can agree exactly how many stories there have been.

The book almost ends on a fairly downbeat note. Under the hopeful sounding chapter title “A New Life for the Doctor” we’re told that new producer Philip Hinchcliffe and Script Editor Robert Holmes are “confident that in the dangerous and disturbing world of today there is a real need for a show like Doctor Who”. Then Dicks and Hulke stick the knife in by informing us that “many of the Doctor’s early adventures are lost forever. Enormous pressure on storage space forces the BBC to “wipe the tapes” "which means that many of the stories they’ve previously listed in the middle of the book, with the exception of those preserved for the Television Archives, “are gone for good”.  Notice the present tense in the word “forces”.  It was still going on.

I believe this was also the first inkling that even the clued up fans had that any of these stories had gone never mind that whoever was making the selection lacked the ability to discriminate between a stone cold classic like Marco Polo and The Sensor-bloody-rites. The authors try to cushion the blow by adding a sales pitch that suggests it’s ok because the adventures were being “preserved in more permanent form” as Target novelisations. As many would discover later when some of these stories were found and the secondary market opened up, the Target novelisations often wildly rewrote what had been on screen. 

The book ends on a three page glossary which has room for “ratings” but not “budget”.

So the history of Doctor Who was formed.

Art in Bath.

Art The BBC Archive pages have been updated with this silent footage of the Bath Academy of Art.

The material covers all the areas you might expect to see in an art school and is bathed (sorry) in the aesthetic of the 1960s.  One of my great regrets is that I wasn't brave enough to apply for art school from university, held back slightly by my inability to draw.

The unrestored nature of the footage which looks like its been shot via telecine creates an extra level of atmosphere. If you're looking for a soundtrack and want to go for the Adam Curtis approach, can I recommend some Brian Eno? The Pearl perhaps?


Politics As you probably know, one the few podcasts I listen to all year round is the FiveThirtyEight politics podcast, in which Nate Silver and the gang chat about the bigger US politics stories of the week from a polling angle.

 At the moment they're heavily in the Democratic primary thickets but every now and then they stick their head out from under to see what's happening elsewhere on the globe, which include frequent glances towards the UK.

In this week's Thursday edition (embedded above), presenter Galen Druke, sans the rest of the team, interviews political scientists Helen Thompson and David Runciman about the Brexit news of the week, the prorogation of parliament and what opposition politicians and the rest of us can do about it.

Some of this stuff will seem remedial, especially for Brexitcast listeners, but it's nevertheless useful to hear a couple of experts work through the implications point by point, and hear Druke's reaction to just how ludicrous this all seems even from someone who's own country is in crisis.

There are a couple of clangers, Thompson has a pretty naive expectation of what the current PM wants from Brexit suggesting that he still wants a deal if possible when every indication is that's a fantasy, but overall its an excellent primer on the weeks and months ahead.

The War Master: Rage of the Time Lords.

Audio This boxset had me at a disadvantage. With the rapidity of Big Finish's releases it's impossible to keep across everything and The War Master releases have been at the periphery so the only other time I've met the character, apart from SOD U LOTT was in the recent River Song boxed set. On listening to that, I was intrigued to know exactly how an evil, malevolent character could be the protagonist, but not enough to fork over any of my limited funds. But being an Eighth Doctor completist here I finally am, as my favourite incarnation cameos in the third of The War Doctor boxes.

In this case, it's to structure the story in such a way that we see a Doctor Who story from the villain's perspective.  The first two Eighthless episodes see the Master in prep mode, visiting a couple of different eras in history and taking advantage of the situation in order to kidnap a couple of gifted young women for unexplained reasons, the sort of thing which might be mentioned in exposition during the first half of a more traditionally structured story.  The bottom two, when the Master's nefarious plans are revealed it's all still from the perspective of the evil Time Lord and his minions.

Which is about as I guessed.  What I didn't expect was just how nasty the storytelling is.  Both of the first two episodes begin like Afternoon Plays on Radio Four which slowly become darker and darker like the lights in the TARDIS console room in Logopolis, a demonstration of what happens when the Doctor isn't there to save the day and point the misguided back into the light.  That is how it should be, probably, and it continues in the concluding parts as the scale of the Master's villainy becomes apparent.  But I do wonder what the other sets are like to listen to when there isn't a more benevolent Time Lord on the horizon to intervene against this genocidal maniac.

The Missing Link

The Doctor is out of sorts for much of Tim Foley's episode for reasons which are eventually explained.  It is a refreshing approach to the Who adventure to hear how the rest of the population react to him arriving.  For some he's a background irritation who barely effects the work they're doing.  For others he is a security threat but the Master seems to have his wits about him and knows how to deal with him.  We hear the blackly comic office politics (think The Cabin in the Woods) which leads up to the unleashing of the sort of "random" jeopardy that usually surprises the viewer and the Doctor, initiating a cliffhanger.

Darkness and Light

How do you wrap up a Doctor Who story in which the Master in the lead character?  Incredibly smartly in this case.  Across a series of intricately plotted movements, writer David Llewellyn manages to keep the Eighth Doctor within the limits of his own heroism, still in his "on the fringes doing what he can phase" and yet also give the Master the upper hand despite his plan ultimately going catastrophically wrong.  There's also a pretty decent explanation as to why the Tenth Doctor doesn't recognise Yana immediately in Utopia which also deals with whatever fallout there might be from Ravenous 4 when the Doctor and War Master meet again, probably for the first time.

Placement:  Early in the Time War.

"Hello American People."

Comedy Here's Simon Amstell on a US talk show doing his material about gay orgies and bondage rooms. Bless his heart.

The Two Popes.

Film This looks fascinating. Two incredible actors in bespoke roles, an important moment in the spiritual history of the planet and despite my cynicism about religion and especially this particular church, it's straight onto my watchlist. Judging by the trailer, for all its formerly cinematic aims, there's a version of this film shot on multi-camera video in TC1 at BBC Television Centre in the 1980s.

Annie & Camille.

Film I've just turned off the John Huston directed original version of Annie, a film I haven't otherwise seen all of the way through.

The last time I saw part of Annie was coming home from a school trip to the Isle of Man in the 80s where it was showing in the film room on the Sealink ferry.

It was a choppy day, I'd eaten a dodgy cold sausage roll from the pack lunch we'd been given and with the rocking of the boat I was sick all over everywhere.

Although I've seen the remake, I never did return to the original.

Until tonight.

It's pretty great especially the dance routines which were choreographed by Arlene Phillips which underscores the crime committed when she was replaced on Strictly, a job she was overqualified for anyway.

I reach the "Let's Go To The Movies" sequence, which is *fantastic*.

As they enter the cinema, the hoarding indicates that it's to see Camille starring Greta Garbo, which is another film I haven't seen.

One of my mini rules is that if I see a film advertised outside a cinema which I haven't seen in one film, it'll be the next next on my viewing schedule.

Coincidentally yesterday, I took a stroll up East Prescot Road Road then Liverpool Road to get some post-op exercise now all my bandages and plasters are off and I'm just waiting for my wound to heal and I bought a dvd of Camille in the charity shop next to a Lidl as part of a 4 for £1 deal (along with Fletch, Easter Parade and Vertical Limit).

So yes, great, I think, I'll be watching Camille tomorrow night, which I can do now thanks to yesterday's clairvoyant purchase.

Fate is weird sometimes.

Except, as those of you who've seen Annie will know, it doesn't just show the title card for Camille, it plays clips of the film.

As soon as they begin I find myself with a quandry.

This old film I'm watching is about to spoil an even older film which I also haven't seen.

Do I carry on revelling in Annie anyway, or stop watching now and watch the rest after Camille?

There wasn't really another choice.

Camille tomorrow night and the rest of Annie afterwards.

So now instead I'm writing about not seeing Annie through to the end for a second time while listening to the new Taylor Swift album again.

Has this ever happened to you?

Seinfeld: The Vampire ...

TV Enjoy this old SNL Seinfeld parody from 1988 which turned up on their feed at the weekend back when Sarah Michelle Gellar hosted. The audience sound like they're in a coma, but it's pitch perfect. The vampire appliances look like they were created by the same team as Buffy and Angel.


Music The other night I discovered a new classic music station out of New York, WQXR. It's wall to wall music broken only by local news broadcasts on the hour, brief adverts for itself and sponsor notations read by the DJs. 

There's also a connected live stream called New Sounds which seems like twenty-four hour Late Junction which I've been dipping in and out of although it requires a bit more concentration.

Here is your SIB monthly news update.

Life As I mentioned in passing in a Tate Liverpool exhibition review, some time in May the bowel on the left side of my crotch made a bid for freedom leading to another inguinal hernia matching the escape attempt on my right side in 2013.  Fortunately the operation was scheduled more speedily than back then and so I returned to the Spire hospital just down the road from home about a week and a half ago for the second inguinal hernia repair of my life.

The process was much the same but faster due to newer techniques.  The whole process only took about seven hours, the bulk of which was preparation and recovery; the operation itself lasted twenty minutes.  The recuperation has been faster too due to the mesh they insert being lighter and less invasive.  This time last week I could barely walk.  Yesterday, I went out and bought a newspaper and a crumpet loaf albeit in a taxi there and back.  With the driver opening the door for me.

Back in 2013, I spent the whole process watching Doctor Who, the day after surgery spent in the company of Survival, Seek Out Science, Dimensions in Time, the TV Movie and Rose.  On this occasion I've felt less able to simply lie in bed for hours on end.  But I've managed to polish off the perfectly fine third series of Stranger Things with the rest of the time in the company of franchises and their blu-ray special features, including Mission Impossible and The Hunger Games.

Last night, I embarked on Twiglet, some of the first film being incredibly poor, the romance scenes in the middle somehow even more goddawfully sickening than the many waterfalls of Attack of the Clones.  The Cullen family feels like a far more intriguing set of characters than either Bella or Edward and the film only kicks into gear in the final half.  If only the story had been told from their POV, their reaction to the notional son bringing a human girl home for "dinner".

Apparently it'll take up to a month for me to be completely mobile which is fine, although I'm also not supposed to sit or lie down in one place for too long, so that's a paradox.  I'm wearing anti-thrombosis socks for the duration so thank goodness they weather's been cooler this past couple of days.  Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go and stand up for a while, hopefully without the area around my particulars stinging too much.

Rip Tide.

Books The first of the Eighth Doctor novellas published by TELOS, Rip Tide is also the most accessible. Told from the convincing point of view of a late-teen in a Cornish fishing village, apart from a couple of swears it would fit just as well amongst the YA tie-ins to the revived television series, with its low stakes storyline and attention to detailing contemporary Earth. Seventeen year old Nina becomes suspicious of Ruth, journalist who's hanging around with her big brother Steve, a lifeboatman recently involved in an incident with a body which has been washed against the shore who is slowly becoming weaker in something which resembles radiation poisoning.  Eventually the Doctor becomes involved and the two of them work towards a solution.  If that sounds a bit vague, it's because the plot is gossamer thin that anything else would be a spoiler.  Now that I think about it, Rip Tide's also structured in much the same way as Rose, with this mysterious bloke hovering in the background until he isn't, although in this case rather than giving speeches about the turn of the world, he's inviting her into the TARDIS and burbling about Gallifrey from the off.  Writer Louise Cooper's Eighth Doctor is a bit generic in the "my dear girl" sense, showing signs of having been written based on a viewing of just the TV Movie and some memories of the classic series rather than a deep knowledge of the BBC Books or Big Finish audios.  Which is oddly enough quite refreshing because who is the Eighth Doctor anyway?  Placement: In Sam's Greenpiece interregnum.  I beginning to think of that period as when Eighth travelled alone for a bit getting used to this incarnation after the initial traumas.

The Legacy of Time.

Audio The Legacy of Time is Big Finish's giant 20th anniversary Whogasm, an epic six-part story set across time and space bringing together characters from the classic series, revival and the audio company's own creations.  As with previous similar efforts it shows the company at its most ambitiously self referential, entirely accepting of the ludicrousness of the endeavour and for the most part providing just the sort of continuity references the television series is and should be reticent to deliver.  Reader, I squeed in a way I haven't squeed since 2013.  Eighth appears in two of the installments and is adjacent to another.  Full synopses of the other installments at Big Finish's sales page.  Time and again you'll ask yourself, "They recorded that?"  Yes, yes they did and it's brilliant, so brilliant that I'm going to break format a little bit and crack open a few more paragraphs.

Lies in Ruins

Each of the episodes opens with the title music for its particular era and after the first meeting of River Song and Bernice Summerfield when the Time War theme plays in we can tell already that the Eighth who appears here will be from close to the end of his life.  Sure enough, this is Eighth at his most fractured, the conflict having triggered an existential crisis that causes him to even forget his two friends.  He's essentially become the "future" version we heard in the Mary Shelley portion of A Company of Friends.  As River explains to Benny, this incarnation of the Doctor has lived a very, very long time (although given the number of missing stories and interpolations which have been added to the lives of the other incarnations over the years, that's probably true of all them).

The focus of the story stays with the archaeologists for the most part and their reaction to his new companion Ria (James Goss poignantly borrowing an idea Paul Abbott had for the slot in the 2005 tv series ultimately filled by Boomtown) (#spoilers) and their reaction to just how much their friend has changed.  Make no mistake, this is the outlier Eighth Doctor, the one who crops up now and then, in places like The Ancestor Cell, Scherzo and Dark Eyes when he's experienced a crisis so large and of a kind which his predecessors rarely have and he's simply broken.  Much like his successors, he feels everything.  If the Fifth Doctor had reacted like this about the death of Adric, Tegan and Turlough would have been stuck on the Eye of Orion watching him meditate forever.

So whilst on the one hand this pitches itself as the long awaited meeting of River and Bernice (even though it isn't really for spoiler reasons) it's also an explanation for how the Eighth Doctor became almost the version who turns up in his regeneration story having realised that it's about time he became involved.  In placement terms, I'm not sure if this means were supposed to assume this happens before or after the Big Finish boxed sets (and James Goss says that it's deliberately left unspecified), but I'm going to be bold and say its afterwards, that we're supposed to assume this is as close as odds to Night of the Doctor as we're likely to get.  That said, with the status quo as it is at the end, there's definitely some wiggle room for some more adventures.

The Avenues of Possibility

It's not really a spoiler to say that The Legacy of Time does not give us the long awaited reunion of Charley and Eighth, each discovering that the other is either alive or not in fact in a grump with him.  Instead we have this squeesome addition to the Edwardian adventuress's time with Sixy, a period which wouldn't otherwise merit a mention here, except for a stunning moment, and this is a spoiler, when she has to tell Eighth's predecessor all about their adventures together.  A continuity festival (of death) heavy on their first two seasons together, writer Jonathan (The Tomorrow Windows) Morris offering a pretty deep dive which had me punching the air.

It's hard to credit that some of these stories were recorded in just a couple of weeks nearly twenty years ago and that Charley originally began travelling with Sixth back in 2008, such is the longevity of the Big Finish enclave of the franchise.  India Fisher is utterly brilliant here as Charley recalls some of the good and bad times, finally able to tell this other incarnation all the things she's been wanting to, the story fitting perfectly in that "era".  But good lord, with Lucie Miller back in boxed sets, any chance of some new Eighth and Charley stories too?  Or at least something to resolve that cliffhanger?  Please?

Collision Course

As with all similar multi-Doctor stories, the Eighth Doctor turns up at the end to lend a hand.  Despite the man depicted on the cover and in his own episode, this doesn't feel like the Time War version, assuming you can tell as much from the few lines of dialogue he has here.  If anything, at least one joke suggests he's from a much earlier period but I really don't know.  So I'll still put it with the Time War stories anyway. if only because it looks neater.  To be honest he's rather overshadowed by other cameos, but I think to reveal how here would be unfair.  I'll just end by wishing Big Finish a happy birthday and to thank them for all the fan service they've supplied to us across the years.