It’s not politics that make the UK rubbish at Eurovision – it’s the fact our songs are bad: "Our failures aren’t to do with Brexit, but our dull tracks. Maybe Dua Lipa’s team can shine a light on where we’re going wrong."
He’s a poet and the FBI know it: how John Giorno’s Dial-a-Poem alarmed the Feds:
"After receiving hundreds of thousands of calls, the poet’s project almost broke the New York telephone exchange – leading to an FBI investigation. Will it cause similar chaos in the Instapoet era?"
Has Covid changed New York City nightlife forever?
"Photographer Dina Litovsky was used to taking pictures of rowdy crowds in the chaos that is nightlife in the Big Apple. Then she was suddenly confronted with the new pandemic reality of empty streets and closed clubs."
How We Made Overload: The Guardian interviews Siobhan and Mutya about the recording of the song:
"We recorded our vocals on a handheld mic, just a quick demo, one take. The idea was that you’d come back and do it properly later. At least, that’s what Cameron told us, which meant we were completely relaxed. My vocal on Overload is quite pitchy – but that was exactly what he wanted to capture, the raw emotion in the moment."

James Bond:
Into the Bondiverse.

 Film  No Time To Die is by far my favourite of the Bond films starring Daniel Craig and perhaps the Bond I've enjoyed the most since The World Is Not Enough.  Completing the narrative arc for this version of the character, it has some absolutely spectacular action sequences and an incredibly appealing story.  On top of that it has a genuine wit with Craig demonstrating his dry comedic abilities more than any of the previous instalments; if Casino Royale felt like it was on the coattails of Bourne, this has something of the comradeship of the M:I series.

At the end of the credits, we're told James Bond will return, and of course he will, but part of me wishes that he wouldn't.  Or at least we'd be gifted a series of spin-off films with Lashana Lynch's new 007 working with this M, Q and Moneypenny aided by Ana de Armas's Paloma in the Felix Leiter role alongside whatever reboot MGM et al have in store.  There's no need for a "Jane Bond" or whatever.  Rest the role for a bit and continue the franchise with this new family of characters, preferably scripted by Phoebe Waller-Bridge.  If not on film, a TV series would do.

But how does this iteration of Bond fit within the overall franchise?  Forgive me if I'm betraying my ignorance with any of the following, but the Broccolis have always seemed to have been a bit ambiguous as to the relationship between the different Bonds.  In some cases the intention seems to be that its all the same continuity just with different actors in the role, with continuity references such as Moore visiting his dead wife's grave in For Your Eyes Only and the same M, Q and Moneypenny continuing through different versions.  But were does that leave Dench's M, who straddled Bronsan and Craig?

The idea of "James Bond" being a codename passed down from agent to agent like M and Q and with Moneypenny as the precedent has never sat will with me because of those continuity elements.  I mean I suppose he could also be a Time Lord but that would be quite the (quantum) leap.  As this superb article about continuity explains, producer Michael G. Wilson has said "that the Bond films weren't one big film series but rather a "series of series."  That article suggests that there are perhaps two fictional universes, whatever happens between Dr No and Die Another Day and then Casino Royale onwards.  

I'd go further than that.  Each of the different Bonds happen in alternate realities, that there are various different continuities with their own internal consistent narrative.  In some realities, M, Q and Moneypenny look the same.  In others they don't.  When Moore visits his wife's grave it's because in his universe, he experienced a version of On Her Majesty's Secret Service and that also explains any other call backs.  His Moneypenny looks older because he joined the service later than Connery.  Similarly the Dench version of M who appears with Brosnan is a different person to the one who worked with Craig.

This isn't a new idea.  The Redditor who fairly comprehensively demonstrated that Connery's character in The Rock is supposed to Bond also suggests each Bond actor's tenure as being a story in its own continuity, with Casino Royale being the only time Eon 'officially' rebooted it on screen (they also note that as far as Connery was concerned he was playing Bond in The Rock).  I'd also add that the various literary Bonds and other portrays are part of this prism of endless possibilities as will whatever new version of the character crops up next (and I can't even imagine what that looks like).

Does any of this matter?  No.  But thinking of them as separate continuities will probably make them easier to watch or read with a modern sensibility attuned to franchises with rich mythology.  So there are six different James Bond series, five reboots in total.  With that being the case, perhaps it is time to either rest the character or as I've been hoping for years, to produce fidelity adaptations of the original novels and short stories, set in period, remaking where necessary.  Although I admit doing another Casino Royale right now would be tricky...

The Coffee Collection:
Wimpy,
Princes Pavement,
Birkenhead.

Twenty Years of Feeling Listless:
Twenty One Touch.

Music  If the pandemic has done anything, it's ruined everyone's sense of timing.  The twentieth anniversary rerelease of the Sugababes's One Touch is actually coinciding with its twenty-first year, thanks to COVID-19 and wanting to create maximum buzz.  Live shows and potential new material were supposed to appear at this time last year, when the album was officially in its 20th year but frankly, no one was in the mood.  Plus Mutya seemed to be having a time of it in terms of her hold on reality in relation to the truthiness of the Qanon conspiracy, although its nice to see she's been around for interviews a bit more.  

The sheer fact of its existence was enough for me to pay the £16 for a copy on Amazon, along with the promise of an extra exclusive disc which isn't even available on their official website.  I hate this sort of thing, especially since there are a couple of previously unreleased demos on there which is an interesting way of repaying the loyalty of fans buying directly from them through the website.  A friend on Twitter has bought a bundle from their online shop which included a signed cd and the Amazon version so he can have everything.  However cool it would be to have their signature on something, I could only really justify having all of the music.

So what do you get for your however much your paying, whomever you're paying it too?  Let's start with the packaging.  The CDs and booklet come in a cardboard tripartite slip cover which means the discs roll out almost as soon as you open it and the text is near impossible to access.  The cover tore slightly as I reached in to get the booklet, which was wedged pretty solidly at its end of the envelope.  Housing CDs in glorified paper is clearly good for the environment, but it also makes the release feel insubstantial.  If audiobooks and the like are still appearing in plastic cases, why is this premium release in a folder which won't even sit properly on the shelf?

The first CD kicks off with a remastered version of the original album in all of its imperious glory.  Perhaps its difficult to judge after twenty years of listening to these twelve tracks but there's no filler, clocking in at forty-eight minutes which feels positively brief at a time when some pop bands are still bloating things out to fill the whole potential duration of a 75 minute disc.  Much as I like Tay-Tay, Lover did not have to be an hour long; a few of the tracks especially later in the album would have made perfect b-sides back when such things existed.

Much has been written here over the years about these vocals but let's go around again.  The liner notes talk about how during the recording sessions, the producers weren't interested in hearing a "perfect" sound and wanted something raw and authentic.  You can certainly hear that in the likes of Real Thing, Same Old Story or even the title track when MKS are singing individually.  But in the harmonies, some kind of ancient magic is invoked as the three original band members create a truly unique sound, especially in polyphonic moments, as happens in New Year, when one of the voices breaks out into a different, but complementary key.

The rest of the set, including Amazon bonus, is split into four types of track: B-sides, previously unreleased demos, new remixes and contemporary remixes.  One Touch was released with a bonus track in Japan and Don't Wanna Wait is programmed directly after the end of the original album.  Not a cover of the Paula Cole track, it crashes in after the perfectly pitched final bars of Run For Cover.  Of a piece with Same Old Story or Lush Life, it's fine and would probably make sense earlier in the track listing but its surprising to know that for a number of Sugababes fans this is how the album concluded, on a slightly dated sounding fade out.

This and the next few will be familiar to those of us who bought all of the iterations of the CD singles.  Between its two versions, New Year had three non-album tracks, Sugababes on the Run, Forever and Little Lady Love although the version featured here is previously unreleased, the single version turning up on CD2 for some reason.  Run is the catchiest of the three and perhaps would have fitted soundly on the album but all four betray a certain generic sound which probably explains their lack of inclusion.  Good enough but not enough to justify chiselling through any of the commandments on the sacred tablet.

As the liner notes indicate, forty demos were whittled down to the twelve selections which appear on One Touch and other selections appear on the final four tracks from CD1 and the first two on the Amazon bonus.  They're all obviously quite rough and betray how the sessions must have proceeded as the producers tried to work out what they had in front of them and how their voices could be best utilised.  Some are outright failures.  Always Be The One attempts to bend the harmonies around a filler ballad from the Roberson and Luckett era of Destiny's Child.  All Around The World is a S/A/W revival and not in a good way.

Of the rest, Girls Night Out Is a hoot, opening with chatter between the 'babes on olde fashioned mobiles and probably would have been a stonking single from the second album with this line-up had One Touch actually sold enough copies back in the day and the animosity between the band members hadn't come to a head (which Keisha's suggested recently might even have been manufactured).  But none of them really coalesce, though again that might be because some of the more placeholder sounds and lyrics would have been replaced with something more original.  Nevertheless its fascinating to have them.  This is our Beatles Anthology.

On the other hand, sorry to say, with one or two exceptions, CD2 is pretty superfluous to me as are the final four tracks on the Amazon bonus disc.  I'm so old now.  Opening with five new remixes of songs from the original album by people twenty years younger than me might have heard of, the rest are repetitive remixes from the original sessions during the period when the producers were formulating "the sound".  None of these three versions of Overload are a patch one the original.  The "acoustic" mix of Promises is just the original with the base boost turned off.  Most just seem to bury the vocals, which is surely the reason to be here? 

The weirdest inclusion is a "non-Christmas" version of New Year, which currently has nearly nine hundred thousand plays on Spotify, presumably fans wanting to know what "non-Christmas" actually means.  Not much, as it turns out.  Otherwise identical to the original, it simply replaces "at Christmas" in the chorus with "last Winter" which just sounds wrong.  This originally surfaced on a promo CDR with the more festive single track, created perhaps with the thought of giving radio stations an alternative version to play outside of December despite the fact the title very much evokes the season of goodwill.

Despite my reservations about the packaging, this is a very nice item to own, especially in the Amazon iteration with the bonus disc housed in a sleeve designed to evoke the London Recordings singles of the 1950s.  If you're a casual who already has the original album, you're probably just as well sticking with the Spotify stream of the rerelease.  To my ears, the remaster of the original doesn't sound significantly different to the original versions especially through my non-professional audio equipment.  But if you're a die-hard fine, this is an essential purchase, if only for the demos and the liner notes.

Wordshaker.

Media Back when I had a decent salary, The Guardian was a daily purchase. Quite often I'd read most of it online the night before, but I felt duty bound to pay for it the next day anyway because someone has to pay for the journalism and advertising isn't going to cover it all. But jobs change, life changes and the price of the newspaper increased and sadly I can't afford the pay the £70 odd a month to buy every issue plus The Observer. So I make a digital contribution of a couple of pounds here and there, just to keep my conscience clear. 

But I do like to buy the physical paper when changes are afoot and so for the past couple of weekends, I've paid the £3.50 for the Saturday edition as it transitions from a clutch of different supplements, some of which have been running for a few decades, to a single entity covering some of the same material and a few others. A lot has changed since the mid-90s heyday when it even had a supplement dedicated to collating material from other publications and could try experiments like leaflets which tried to imagine what a news publication looks like now. 

Saturday glances backwards and forwards.  Returning to a format close to original 90s magazine, it's essentially much of the editorial innards from the glossy Weekend of recent times with the contents of The Guide and Review sections wedged in the middle before the lifestyle section.  If you weren't aware of the change and simply looked at the various themes on The Guardian's website, I'm not sure you'd see much of a difference. You can definitely tell what would have been the cover story on The Guide this month and Armando Iannucci's Brexit poem would have sat easily in Review instead. In other words, it brings some order to the chaos of the different supplements by making them more cost effective. 

Another approach would have been to retain the brands but simply put them under the same paper-based roof but this no doubt offers some tonal flexibility within the editorial if there's another major event and the supplement wants to produce a special issue. Instead we have a pot pourri of interviews and articles which comes across as a degree level version of The One Show, albeit without the interviewees being asked to weigh in on whatever Tim Dowling's doing that week, perhaps in the corner of the page with a photo and speech bubble.

One of the new slots,  "Dining Across The Divide" is utter horseshit, as a ridiculously ignorant Brexit voting anti-masker talks to her exact opposite and they list all the things they disagree on. Except like Blind Date, the conversation is presented through witness testimony after the fact rather than extracts of what was actually said at the table, so all we really get to hear is how reasonable they both thought they'd been in an immensely boring way. Unless The Guardian's has some trick up its sleeve, every single one of these columns is going to be identical. 

But there's also a really lovely piece in which Sophie Ellis-Bextor and her Mum Janet recreate an old photo from the mid-80s and they each talk about their relationship with one another and how her Mother's fame effected her at school and elsewhere growing up. Sophie says she lot her step-dad just before lockdown and doing the kitchen karaoke was one of her coping mechanisms. Walking the Merseyrail map and hopefully blogging some more might just be mine. Both pieces are stored in a section called "cuttings" which seems like it would have been the ideal place to put Blind Date but that's still at the back in the lifestyle section. 

Overall I was very impressed with Saturday. It has a weight and heft and plenty to read and ticks all of my aspirational boxes of making suggestions for things which'll take me out of my comfort zone, enough that I'm seriously considering buying the paper again, at least on a Saturday. I've been feeling a bit out of touch lately and with one TERFy exception, it feels like its being written for someone like me who wants an introduction to new things but isn't always sure how to access them. It's really just a case of deciding whether I can afford it, especially when the contents are on the website anyway.

He's back and it's about T.

 TV   As you know it's been a difficult few weeks, but today I'm beaming, absolutely beaming.  There are certain pop culture moments which seem so unlikely that the world, or at least your Twitter timeline seems to stop because it can't quite grasp what just happened (unless the server's gone down again).  "I'm a doctor, but probably not the one you were expecting" is pretty high on the list Doctor Who wise but taking a break in the middle of watching The Green Knight* and discovering that Russell T Davies, Russell T Davies for goodnesss sake,  is returning as showrunner for the 60th year and beyond is pretty high up there.

The BBC press release is here.  There's scant information about anything much, as you might expect, other than that it's to be a co-production between BBC Studios and Bad Wolf, the production company set up by Julie Gardner and Jane Tranter, who's about page spends a whole paragraph comparing the revival's season one story arc to the Welsh TV production industry sending its work out into the world.  They're putting the band back together and given Phil Collinson and Murray Gold both worked on It's A Sin, there's every chance they'll be returning too.  It's Saturday tea time 2005 all over again.  Again.

The press release is very careful to remind readers that there's another series and bit of Thirteenth Doctor stories to come (or however many Doctors there were before Jodie) and it is unfortunate that some extent this will overshadow the next year or so as people speculate about what the new RTD 2.0 will look like.  But twas forever thus.  Even back in the interdimensional non-space of the time vortex, when the general viewership didn't even know who was writing the show, the shift from one actor to another in the lead role was filled with fear and anticipation.

We await the Doctor Who Magazine interview within which Russell explains how he was persuaded to return, given the finality with which he communicated his desperation to leave to Ben Cook in their book The Writer's Tale.  A very large cheque was possibly involved, or the fear of cancellation because no one else wanted to do it (called by no one the JNT manoeuvre) and the enticement of being able to make it in conjunction with his old friends.  The previous workload seemed to break him last time so it is surprising that he'd want to do it all over again.  Or perhaps he just watched The Timeless Child and wanted to take one for the team.

Not to chill your mellow, but there are a couple of issues.  As we've retrospectively discovered, the production process on his previous tenure was not an altogether happy one, what with the harassment claims against Noel Clarke and John Barrowman getting his todger out in the workplace much to the amusement of cast and crewmembers who's livelihood depended on them finding it funny.  Plus Christopher Eccleston still isn't happy with the BBC or indeed Davies and co because of things he saw during the process so don't expect to see him back for the 60th.  Hopefully, as they say, lessons have been learned.

But what does this mean in the long term?  Given how enamoured Russell is about the whole business surrounding Doctor Who, Big Finish is safe, Doctor Who Magazine will be taken care of (and include a few set visits again) and we might even get Doctor Who Confidential back.  In the wider context, given that he's a collector himself and knows the pain of spines which don't match, the current logo might stay at least long enough for it to appear on all the BD boxsets.  However flimsy it seemed at first, its grown on me, although I imagine the next one'll simply be the title of the series written in lowercase BBC Reith.

Before this is posted, some wild speculation.  The next Doctor will be played by Lydia West assuming Romola's busy again.  It'll return to Saturday nights but in an old old school twenty-five minute format with story lengths of up to four episodes returning the show to twenty-odd episodes a year without much of a change in production time and some added flexibility when it comes to "double banking" and providing more cliffhangers overall.  Christmas Day episodes return although with longer seasons, they'll be woven into the fabric of those rather than standing alone.

Nevertheless this is brilliant news and I'm cracking out all of my prop words to celebrate.  Including gap years, the revival's been running for over fifteen years which is a long time for any show, especially in this genre and the fact that it's receiving a new impetuous rather than suffering through the kind of managed decline some grandees who should know better predicted (he's well pleased now the cretin) is all to the good.  That this show still has an imminent future on television and in such good hands is brilliant news and just what I needed to hear right now.  I might even start writing reviews again.

Four Favourite Doctor Who Television Stories.

 TV  Due to recent events I haven't much felt like blogging and with my wildly sporadic posting rate anyway, my fingers and brain feel out of practice, so in an effort to write and post something here and hopefully Stella my way through things, I've decided to put together a new series of posts which list some favourite examples of a thing.  They're not always necessarily my favourite favourite, such things are impossible when there's so much to enjoy in life, but just four things which are meaningful and recommend you have a look at.  They're also in no particular order which is why there are no numbers.  Anyway, here's some low hanging fruit to get started (since it's Saturday night).  The following is in no way definitive. 

City of Death

Having missed it on broadcast, my first sight of what was to become my favourite Doctor Who story was on a VHS borrowed from a friend (this was years before I became a hardcore fan).  Irrespective of the story or the script, it's the shots of the Doctor and Romana gladding about Paris, which even in that vintage seemed to my young mind who'd spent most of his life in the suburbs of Speke, like the most glamorous, romantic and yet also alien place I'd ever had a window into.  When I ended up in Paris years later, I spent my time on the Eiffel Tower reading out loud the bouquet scene, much to the intrigue of some US tourists.

Marco Polo

Again it's the scenery, but on this occasion the version manifested in my imagination on each repeated listen through the soundtrack recording.  In my mind this takes place across the full epic cinemascope experience and it's impossible not be swept up in the adventure, even when it gets a bit slow and repetitive in the middle.  Writer John Lucarotti's own novelisation for TARGET doesn't do it justice as he tries to tell the whole story in the usual hundred and twenty odd pages, which removes some of the epic scale in favour of laying bare that repetitiveness, the Doctor and his companions becoming variously captured and rescued a bit too often.

Time and the Rani

Like I said, a favourite.  There's no doubt large parts of this story are absolutely terrible, but rewatching the recent re-release, it's impossible not to marvel and the audacity of some of the choices, primarily having Kate O'Mara giving her impression of Bonnie Langford, ginger wig and day-glo costume included.  Even as Sylv is grasping about for some clue as to how he's supposed to play the thing, their scenes together are magnetic.  Plus Doctor Who's often at its most interesting when its still cooking, before it reverts into some kind of formula.

Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead

Although he tried in his own era, I don't think Moffat created anything as rich and depthful as River Song's introductory story, especially since in retrospect, with the various noodling Big Finish are doing between her and Tenth in the audio, Alex Kingston's acting skills, and one of the longest durational attributions of the Kuleshov effect, we can absolutely feel her panic on realising that this is his first chronological encounter with her even with that daft old face, knowing this could be their final adventure together.

I'm Such An Idiom.

Life  Waiting for the moment to put the tea in the oven, I was just idly ego-googling and discovered, thanks to the magic of Google Books, that I'm quoted in the latest edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Idioms!  Huh?

Both quotes are from this blog post in 2013 in which I talk about my hernia operation (the book gives a publication date of 2014).  

The first quote is for "cross your fingers" and is on the same page as an example taken from The Bible (Matthew's gospel).


The second quote illustrates "the end of the world" which given recent events (my Mum recently died which is why I haven't really felt like being here) is especially relevant.  Sometimes it does look like it could be ...


As you might expect, I've now ordered copy of the book so I can see if there's a bibliography and if it actually explains what "feeling listless" is.  Just glancing at it, you might think it's some bestselling novel, not that it has the most enticing title.

"You asked me not to leave, well here I am again"
PopJustice on the return of ABBA. Some of you will know how meaningful Peter's comment that he "can't be the only one today thinking of all the people who loved this band and aren't around today to hear these new songs" means to me right now. My favourite things about the publicity photos are the codpieces, skirts and the fact that Anni-Frid (swoon) seems to be only one not wearing platforms. Never mind Tron, they're suited up for a lasertag session aren't they?

City Links Lives.

Liverpool Life  Back in 2008, coinciding with Liverpool's year as Capital of Culture, I actually wrote a paid column for a local magazine.  Liverpool.com was a glossy monthly free sheet given away at arts venues, coffee shops and the like across the city with as you might expect a connected website (the domain is now owned by Reach, publishers of the Echo and used to report on one of the local football clubs). 

City Links, was a short piece in the "news" section which reviewed some local websites usually about five or six.  The column was pulled in one issue for some reason and I actually posted it on here.  As far as I know I was still paid the £50 fee that month anyway.  It's gratifying to see that at least half of those links still work in some capacity.  Link rot is a cruel master.

Most of the columns were scrambled together in desperation in the week before deadline and the links themselves varied in quality, not least because it had to be actual things rather than just articles on websites and had to be general enough to be of interest to someone flicking through the magazine in the Everyman Bistro while they wait for a show to start.

The gig lasted about ten months and also included writing previews for theatre production I'd rarely ultimately end up seeing based on press releases and a website.  After that I wrote some film reviews for Liverpool Confidential which are listed here, although none of the links work any more.  I've emailed them for permission to reproduce them in this blog's innards.

The upshot of all this preamble is I'm going to challenge myself to produce a new City Links column in the old style but for local related websites which have been useful or been of interest to me over the past few years.  Hopefully it won't be boring (which was never a guarantee back when I was writing the column, honestly you should have seen some of the things which were printed).


CITY LINKS - AUGUST 2021

National Museums Liverpool Virtual Tours

The pandemic has been a challenging time for museums and many have turned to creating virtual tours of their exhibitions spaces, permanent and temporary, to allow visitors some kind of access to their collections.  National Museums Liverpool have stepped up.  Utilising the Matterport software, it's now possible to wander through key galleries like the Ancient Egyptians at the World Museum and the Titanic display at the Maritime Museum as well as past exhibitions, such as the English Lady's Wardrobe at the Walker.

BFI Player - Liverpool

The BFI Player's free section has a huge selection of films, long and short on many subjects and a search for Liverpool reveals numerous gems.  Liverpool 8 is a 1972 episode of This Week in which Jonathan Dimbleby investigates the racial tensions within the community.  Cathedral of Our Time has footage of the building and opening of "Paddy's Wigwam".  There's also silent material featuring the Tall Ships in 1984.  Plenty to explore.

Bus Times

Merseytravel's website sometimes isn't the easiest to navigate which is where Bus Times becomes vital.  An immensely detailed collection of data, it provides easy access to what it says in the title through a search box, but also this useful navigation tool which allows the traveller to select their local area down to the nearest street revealing all of the buses which are available, their destinations and time table.

Shakespeare North Playhouse

The building of the new theatre in Prescott continues apace and its due to open in Summer 2022 now, all being well.  Their website is a bit sparse at present, but has a time lapse of the exterior construction of the building, jobs and news pages [yes, I know it's in Knowsley but it's part of the Liverpool City Region combined authority so it counts -- ed.]

Liverpool Walking Tours

The modern equivalent of "tram films" from the silent period are these walking tours of the city centre taken by amateurs and professionals.  Especially in the past few years, they capture the city at a particular moment in time and should be as fascinating for future generations.  He's a hundred minute walk captured around Christmas time last December in the midst of the second lockdown with excellent views of the festive lights and general atmosphere.

Bye Jodie.

 TV  Just had a difficult trip into the city centre.  We needed some shopping and I chased around a few shops looking for some lost property.  But masks are firmly back in pockets or bins and humanity was out in force so I began to feel a bit overwhelmed.  Despite having planned to visit some of my old haunts, it was impossible for me to exist successfully, especially around people (have I developed social anxiety on top of everything else?) so it was essentially through the M&S food hall then home.  Went out at about one of the clock, back by four.  

As I was unpacking, Radio 5 Live was on in the background and the Drive programme mentioned that Jodie Whittaker is leaving Doctor Who.  Thanks to a tabloid leak or guess, we've been speculating and made our peace with this for months so this is really just a confirmation.  Six episode series this year, then three specials next year culminating in a regeneration during the BBC's centenary celebrations in Autumn 2022.  Sighing, I stacked some ready meals in the freezer and popped a mini pork pie my mouth.  At least the blog'll have a Doctor Who post on its birthday.

Preparing to write this, I opened up the Doctor Who folder in my RSS reader and there at the top was the BBC News version of the story.

Doctor Who: Jodie Whittaker and Chris Chibnall to leave in 2022.

Well, reader, I cheered.  He's going.  He's bloody going.  Turns out he and Jodie had a three years and out pact at the start of production and here we are.  Is it so wrong the news that one of the worse showrunners the Doctor Who universe has had to deal with is leaving cheered me up?  That it had me dancing in my bedroom, bouncing up and down and singing?  

Back when it was announced Chibbers would be taking over my initial reaction was to mimic Heston at the end of The Planet of the Apes but the eternal optimist in wondered what he would do with full creative control of the show, whether he would produce something special.

Well he didn't did he?  All the very best episodes have been at least partly written by someone else, he's fundamentally misunderstood some of the Doctor's core values as a character and although I am a fan of the Morbius Doctor turn of events (so, so EDA) the execution was typically duff, amounting to a lecture about new Gallifreyan mythology on New Year's Day.  At least he didn't drop this infodump at Christmas.

Chibbers has this to say on the subject of his leading lady:

"Jodie's magnificent, iconic Doctor has exceeded all our high expectations. She's been the gold standard leading actor, shouldering the responsibility of being the first female Doctor with style, strength, warmth, generosity and humour."

Against your best efforts, mate.  At least now she can go to Big Finish if she wants to and get some decent scripts.  Hopefully, at least, you'll do us a favour and leave a nice gap somewhere for them to be set.

So who's next?  Peter McTighe seems the next obvious choice - huge experience writing and producing popular shows and fan enough to have already been creating minisodes advertising the Doctor Who BDs, not to mention writing the enclosed booklets.  His one episodes Kerblam! and Praxeus were a bit of a mess but there are all kinds of reasons why that might not be his fault.

The other interesting possibility is Maxine Alderton, writer of several hundred episodes of Emmerdale and Doctor Who's The Haunting of Villa Diodati.  She's been promoted to something called "core writer" for season 13 which implies some kind of shadowing, so perhaps she's being groomed to take over but without showrunner experience needs some coaxing.

That's unless we get the Abi Morgan series starring Romola Garai finally.

We'll talk some more about this, I expect.

This Blog's 20th Birthday.

 About It has been twenty years since I began posting here and to celebrate I asked Annette, who interviewed me for the fifth, tenth and fifteen birthday to return to talk about another five. Luckily, it was an offer she didn't refuse ...

Congrats on 20 years of this blog! Twenty years is a long time in person years, but in Internet years, that’s about – I don’t know, 10,000? For some perspective, feeling listless was launched before Twitter, Facebook or Gmail, and has existed for nearly 2/3 of the time the World Wide Web itself has been around. The manner in which the blog has remained fresh, engaging and much beloved during that entire time is truly remarkable.

Thanks very much!

The last time I did an anniversary interview (5 years ago), I remember thinking how much the world had changed in the previous five years, as far as some of the changes in entertainment, social media and technology. But this time - well, it feels like we live in a different world entirely from five years ago, doesn’t it? In July 2016, we were right on the cusp of it - the Brexit vote had just happened, true, but I still took it for granted that Hillary Clinton would be the next U.S. president, and a global pandemic seemed a very far off possibility, at least in my mind. The experiences of the past five years have been scarring, to say the least. What have these events meant to you personally?

Everything and nothing.  The last five years have been pretty rough for other reasons so to an extent I’ve felt a bit like the protagonist of a renaissance painting in which these world changing events have been happening in the background, whilst in the foreground life changing events happened too.  No I will not talk about it on here, sorry, no great revelations.  But what it all has taught me is you cannot become to settled in anything, the life is constantly in flux and you can’t unfortunately take anything for granted.  No one can.

I think I’ve said this before, but in the late 90s, my night school journalism teacher said that you have to remember that it doesn’t really matter who’s in charge, that sometimes you’re ok, sometimes not and it all balances out.  I wonder how he feels about that now, keeping in mind we were knee deep in New Labour at the time, Bill Clinton was in the White House and people still bought video cassettes in shops.  It’s very easy to say such things when you’re personally enjoying a moment of relative comfort.

Since 2016 (remember when the joke was about how awful that year was?) I’ve been trying to work out when the world felt most secure, when you could sit in front of the news and it didn’t feel like a social, health and climate apocalypse wasn’t happening around us and after trying out a few years it became apparent that actually, never.  The turn of the millennium, perhaps, but that’s from a very insular viewpoint.  The many wars across the world were still going strong, combatants and civilians dying, so many in fact, the Wikipedia has a list!  

So really what my journalism teacher should have been saying is that the world exists in a constant state of catastrophe and most of the time it won’t affect you personally and sometimes it will and that you only really need to worry about it in the latter case and even then only when there’s something you personally can or have to do about it.  If that includes being an ally too when needed, so be it.  Sorry, does that answer your question?  

Oh, yes. Not the answer I expected but your night school teacher had it right, I think. However, I think the pandemic, compared to other types of events, did end up affecting most of us personally, altering our daily routines and even our life trajectories. 

Exactly.  The problem is, whisper, we’re doing all of this to ourselves and have done for centuries, global catastrophes which are either a direct or indirect result of humanity’s choices and some of us so busy creating new problems and constantly finding ways to divide ourselves as a society that everything important to our survival gets kicked further along the generational guide.  

Are you optimistic about the post-pandemic world?

On the basis of the previous answer, you’ll expect me to say no and unfortunately you’ll be right, but simply because I don’t know if there will be a post-pandemic world yet.  Vaccinate as much of the first world as you like but until the entire population of the world has had the privilege, we’re still at risk.  Plus it’s all contingent on mostly liberal parties remaining in power in the largest liberal democracies and we can’t be certain Biden will win again in 2024, or indeed still have some control over the House and Senate after the mid-terms.

In the UK, it’s the NHS which is saving us although the government is doing everything it can to make it harder.  We only had to wait another couple of weeks for the vaccination process to make real progress, but the Tories decided it was too long and now the virus is raging again, albeit without as many deaths and hospitalisations.  Sorry, this supposed to be celebratory but there’s a long road ahead with so many nexus points that it’s difficult to see past it, not least because we’ve gone from a ridiculous Health minister to a genuinely scary autocrat.

Point taken - the pandemic is far from over. Covid-19 will be with us for a long while, especially in parts of the world where vaccines aren’t readily available. 

It’s scary.  I get why people are desperate to find some sense of normality.  They’re tired.  I’m tired for all the same reasons.  Eighteen months ago life became an ARG with very real consequences.  

Moving on to other subjects, what have been your favorite blog projects in the past five years?

The biggest and probably the most challenging was My Favourite Film of, which ended up being over a hundred weekly posts across two years, the notion being that when I finished, you’d be able to read them in chronological order via the tag, my personal history of film.  I purposefully made it difficult for myself at the start by deciding not to repeat directors and also not to simply post straight reviews but to talk around the film most often without going back and watching whatever it was again.  Fortunately, there were a few guest bloggers along the way.

It developed from the Who 50 project from earlier in the decade when I posted a weekly non-review of a Doctor Who story, the difference being that I didn’t fill in the time between with tangentially related links, partly because the entries themselves were already pretty time consuming.  I had a spreadsheet set up with deadlines for when each film’s entry had to be written by which at least meant I could plan ahead.  At some points I had posts written months in advance.

You can see when I was getting pretty desperate, especially towards the end or as it looks now, the beginning, posting almost all the essays I wrote at film school, applying the Hays Code to Deadpool in the entry about Mata Hari or quite obviously chose a film because I had something to write about it rather than because it was necessarily my favourite.  But parts of it really hold up and as with all of these blogging projects, it forced me to write something.  I’m not sure I’d have the energy to write all of that now.  Ahem.

I remember that project and being puzzled by the entries from the early years of film. Favorite film of 1897? But good for you for following through all the way to the end!

The projects which work best seem to have a definite ending either a time period or a number, a final end.  It’s open ended ones which tend to peter out.

Here’s something I’ve been wanting to know for awhile - what is the 231163 Diaries project?

Doctor Who was first broadcast in the UK on the 23rd November 1963 and the idea was to see if I could find a diary entry in which the writer mentions watching that first episode (credit to Graham Kibble-White for the name).  But inevitably because the Kennedy Assassination happened the day before, for the most part it became a record of how various individuals experienced that moment either because they were actually in the room or simply heard about it second hand.  Of all the projects, that’s the one I’m going to try to return to once libraries are properly accessible again.  That and Soup Safari.

Oh, that’s interesting - I somehow missed the Doctor Who connection, but there were some interesting historical artifacts in that series. I’d be glad to see Soup Safari return, but what about The Coffee Collection? 

Wait and see.

Are there any older blog projects that you want to resurrect in the future?

All of the open ended ones are still ongoing, I suppose.  There are a few Hamlets to catch up on and I’m a bit behind on the Eighth Doctor (Who) content.  Who 50’ll become Who 60 in a couple of years.  Sometimes the projects are all that’s left, but I’ll keep going no matter how unmotivated I am sometimes.  I don’t believe in announcing the closure of a blog.  It’s too final and this place has always ebbed and flowed in relation to content.  I’m sure I’ll always have something to write.

Life Props, maybe? I also hope you’ll continue with Public Art Collections in North.West England.

Well, I mean that’s done, I’ve visited all of the galleries and museums in the book.  I have thought about expanding out and using the Art UK website as a guide but again, it feels a bit open ended.  I like having things to tick off.  Like the walking around the Merseyrail network I’m doing now.  Finite number of stations.

I’m assuming you don’t have people tell you this too often – but I really enjoy the links that you post on the blog. I think the Christmas links are absolutely perfect, because they come at a time when I might have some actual downtime and are, for the most part, entertaining short reads. How do you pick what links you will post? Do you spend a lot of time considering them or just post things that you personally find interesting?

Somewhere in the past decade, the blog pretty much settled into a few grand themes, Doctor Who, Shakespeare, film and the Sugababes and so for the most part I’ve sticking to those lately, but really it is just stuff which interests me or I have something to say about beyond anything I can fit into a tweet.  I used to be quite diligent about working through news sites searching for things to post the whole year around but with the content hosepipe that exists now, who has the time to read everything and then decide what to post.

The Christmas Links used to just be a way to keep the blog ticking over during the holiday period but now they’ve become part of my own personal seasonal tradition because it’s the one time of the year when I do read a lot and the whole thing makes me feel more festive.  I usually have a search column going in Tweetdeck for verified tweets mentioning various keywords and there are some outlets I end up posting from every day.  I’d like to claim credit for the idea but a few of the classic UK bloggers used to something similar back in the day.

What are your go-to streaming services as of late? 

As of right now I’m subscribed to Netflix, NowTV, Amazon Prime, MUBI, Disney+ and Britbox, with YouTube and the BBC iPlayer the free services at the top of my Roku list.  This changes depending on whether Amazon’s channels section has a £1 a month offer on, as they did recently with BFI Player.  On top of that, I’m also still with Cinema Paradiso’s discs by post.

Do you have The Criterion Channel in the UK?

Oh if only.  There are a lot of Criterion films on Kanopy, the library connected service and plenty of the others are scattered across the BFI Player and MUBI.  But none of the special features are obviously included.  I’ve started a small collection of the DVDs, mostly the early releases when they turn up cheaply on eBay.

Do you find the world of streaming services as cluttered and confusing as I do?

Yes!  So many of the films which would previously have gone through the theatrical to home release to streaming release window structure are skipping at least one of both of the first two that as a film fan you have to be subscribed to everything otherwise you’re likely going to miss even Oscar nominated films.  Of the list, I only pay for Netflix and NowTV on a monthly basis.  The rest are annual lump sums or (believe it or not) a job perk.  But it still hurts especially since a lot of films are now only being released in the home on DVD so the only way to watch them in HD is through a streaming service.

Nice job perks! 

As I suggested earlier in the month, the ideal scenario would be for film companies to follow their music arms and simply license their back catalogue to whole companies who then reimburse them on a watch-by-watch basis somehow.  Even with the help of something like JustWatch, you can spend a lot of time trying to keep up with when films are going to be available and which service and then deciding whether it’s worth paying for a month’s subscription to see a film which will likely disappear back into the archives again soon.

So Spotify for films, I suppose? 

Yes.  I mean rental streaming services are close to this, almost everything is available to rent on Amazon and elsewhere at various price points like a giant digital Blockbuster, but the subscription model is the barrier.  It is strange that £10 a month seems reasonable for access to almost all music ever but there’s no way movie companies are going to license their entire back catalogue to a Spotifilm and expect a return for a similar charge.  The key problem is, I suppose, that people listen to their favourite albums over and over again, sometimes in the same day, but will rewatch films far less frequently if at all.    

Post-pandemic, do you think it will become common practice for the major studios to release their films on streaming services instead of in theatres? If so, what do you think the long-term effects will be?

Eventually, ultimately yes.  In the independent sector, that transition had largely already happened in the UK, with Curzon Home Cinema, MUBI and BFI Player offering day and date releases of film which are also playing in the Picturehouse and independent chains with comparable charges.  The pandemic has simply accelerated that and added a Hollywood dimension.  I notice that Black Widow is being theatrically released two days before it hits Disney+ and I can see that model continuing.

The biggest change is how the studios envisage how these releases work.  Back in 2016, Napster’s Sean Parker was touting the “Screening Room” in which consumers would buy a $150 proprietary streaming box and then pay $50 for each film for a night with $20 being handed over to a film chain in order to placate them for any potential loss in revenue.  Despite all the names you’d expect being involved it didn’t ultimately go anywhere presumably because not a single element of it was designed with the consumer in mind.

Oh, I haven’t thought about Napster in many years! Now there was an idea ahead of its time.

What the pandemic demonstrated is you really don’t need to do any of that, you can quite comfortably rent day and date releases through ordinary streaming apps or else include them as part of the monthly rental package.  For the larger film studios, the former scenario will be most likely and we really don’t know the numbers on how much was made through pay-per-stream during the pandemic.  As someone who finds the process of going to the cinema increasingly intimidating, being able to rent and watch Wonder Woman 84 or Cruella at home was a joy.

Besides the pandemic, the film industry has gone through a lot of other changes in the past five years. We touched on that a bit in the last interviewYou had said, “But more often than not, I’m seeing actresses which elsewhere have been stuck in supporting roles finally being given the opportunity to carry a film and doing it superbly.” In the wake of the #metoo movement it seems like women are finally getting more of these opportunities. Do you think this is a short-lived reaction or has Hollywood really evolved?

Who knows, but I think the important change is the number of women who’re in charge of independent production companies who crucially give opportunities to other women to create projects that have previously been ignored by the major and minor studios.  Even on occasions when women were studio heads, the otherwise patriarchal nature of the structure of the studios meant their success didn’t trickle down.  

There are far more women directors and writers working across the industry, even on projects which might previously have been immediately given to men and across a number of genres and on prominent series.  There are episodes of both Star Wars and Marvel series which are both written and directed by women and risks are being taken.  Chloe Zhao directed The Eternals before Nomadland.

Yes, that’s promising for the future of film. There needs to be change on the systemic level. At least we are seeing a few steps in that direction.

Except this is from someone who habitually seeks out female led productions and I’ve no clue how difficult it still is to get these opportunities especially if you don’t already have a profile, especially for people of colour or who’re LGBTQ+.  But it feels like something is changing.  If #metoo did anything, it brought women together in the room to have conversations about how to make things better.

Is there a film or series you watched recently that you can’t stop thinking about?

Given the number of films I watch, that’s a huge question, but it’s probably Emma Seligman’s Shiva Baby about a college student who returns home to attend the shiva for someone she barely knew and comes face to face with the man she’s having an affair with, and his family.  Most of the film takes place at the gathering and the lead actress Rachel Sennott is in shot through most of it.  

What’s stayed with me is the way Seligman and her DP Maria Rusche are able to create such a claustrophobic, tense atmosphere as Sennott’s character navigates the crowd, having to deal with pushy relatives who don’t understand her “lifestyle choices” (she’s bi) and already have her future mapped out in their heads.  It’s a total cringathon and I loved it.

That does sound intriguing. Cringeable scenes in film have a similar impact on me as well. It seems I can remember them years later.

Are there any sites you visited in London that really exceeded your expectations? Have there been any that you thought would be amazing but found disappointing?

London is an addiction and I can honestly say there hasn’t really been anywhere which has disappointed me.  Just the fact of being able to lay on the floor of St Paul’s Cathedral looking at the domed ceiling, finally seeing John Harrison’s Longitude clocks, climbing to the top of Monument, sitting on the stage of the Sam Wannamaker theatre at the Globe and walking all of the sites of Shakespeare’s theatres, spending so much time in the National Gallery or all of the galleries.  So many memories and I can’t wait to go back.

Wow, that’s great! 

But if there was one venue which disappointed it was the Science Museum.  It feels dated, all of the various historical objects collected together in a massive hall lacking context or organisation.  Perhaps it’s the overwhelming number of famous items making it difficult to focus on a particular thing, but it feels like there’s a real story of how science and technology developed and when I visited it didn’t feel like that was being told.

What are the tweets that repeat daily on your Twitter account? Why?

Some are reminders, some are protests, some are comforts.  I noticed that people don’t always know how to filter their tweets to remove harassment and spam so I have an explainer each day.  Plus people don’t know that they can switch back to old Twitter so that seemed important too.

The daily Norah Jones video began as a Trump protest but now serves as a moan against the Tories.  It was originally about Bush but the themes still work.  A Song For The Unification Of Europe began as soon as the Brexit referendum was announced and will remain until the UK is back in the EU, however long that takes.

I’ve been told the 6am reminder to not Panic and the Love Actually tweet have both become a comfort to some people, become part of their routine, and mine too which is why they’re staying.  Plus every now and then I get a new follower and it’s important that they know my feelings about the worst film ever made.

Yeah, it’s funny how often those show up in my Twitter feed. 

Every day, sorry.

Don’t apologize - I also find comfort in the repetition.

It seems like you have been posting more book reviews on the blog recently. Is this because you are reading more books or just posting about them more often? 

Bit of both.  The few from this year are Doctor Who and Shakespeare which is very on-brand, the latter because I’m back on the Arden Shakespeare review list but rather than being sent everything, I’m able to pick and choose what I’m interested in.  At the moment I’m working through the Doctor Who TARGET novelisations and some random literature I’ve been wanting to catch up on.

Of all the books you’ve reviewed, is there one that stands out in your mind to recommend?

Listen, I’ve mentioned this a few times before but Jonathan Morris’s Touched By An Angel, which was probably my favourite book of the past decade.  There’s something about how it conjures a sense of place and richness of character while still being a Doctor Who book.  Tie-in fiction is full of novels which are as literary as anything nominated for one of the big prizes but go unread by the wider population because of what’s printed on the cover.

What’s next for the blog?

God knows.  Whilst researching the birthday posts, I’ve noticed how many bloggers over the years have published “final posts” in which they grandly talk about how they’ve enjoyed writing the blog but their interests lay elsewhere so they’ve decided to stop, blah blah blah, effectively cancelling themselves.  But I can’t see that ever happening here.  Even when Google finally pulls the plug on blogspot, I’ll take the archives somewhere else and carry on writing something at some time.

That’s great to know. Ha, I remember when Google purchased Pyra Labs (now I am really dating myself) and this many years later Blogger keeps chugging along. I even looked at the new user interface recently and couldn’t figure out what had changed, which I like! Who needs WordPress, anyway? You’d have quite a few posts to transfer - 12,493 as of July 10!

I’ve just downloaded a backup and it’s 54.7mb.  That is a lot of text.

Congratulations again on this 20-year blog milestone. I remember reading this post and thinking how I have a similar way of winnowing down my digital reading list. Seventeen years after discovering feeling listless, it remains on my shortlist of favorites, even as I’ve relentlessly Marie Kondo-ed what I read online. This blog inspires joy, and I thank you for continuing with it and giving me and all of your other readers something to look forward to in every season.

Well, thank you for doing this again.  You’ve always been a great supporter and one of the reasons I’m probably still posting here is because I know we have to do another interview in five years.  See you for the 25th!