The Sixth Book I've Read in 2020.

Books   Not a play I'm that familiar because it's also not a play I particularly like so I skimmed the lit crit section and went straight for the production history and textual examination both of which were as fascinating as these things tend to be.  Was the play produced in Shakespeare's lifetime or meant to simply exist as a reader's addition?  The length of the speeches and the more ponderous approach to scene structure would suggest so.  But why so many difference between the Quarto and Folio with the addition stage directions and revisions of language?  Did it in fact receive an appearance at the Inns of Court?  Onward to Julius Caesar.

The Fifth Book I've Read in 2020.

Books With the The CW's tv adaptation in the air, and in the wake of finishing Doomsday Clock, I decided it was about time to read the original comic. Whereas the Watchmen sequel was designed to acknowledge the existence and validity of all the various universes and timelines across DC's history making all of it "canonical", it's quite stark to find a comic designed to do the exact opposite, to dump out decades of continuity in order to streamline what was being published.  Inevitably, I prefer the former which implies that every universe, across media, is valid, the various multiverses part of a metaverse which contains all of fiction, or at least that's how I interpret it.

The scope is incredible, breathless and for all the suggestion that this was a self-contained story, it's sure to be a comics fan who'll get the most out of the references.  Nevertheless, I can appreciate the import of having the various incarnations of Superman working together and characters who've previously only had a minor focus in the various comics being thrust to centre stage.  Are there too many characters?  Probably and often the chaotic storytelling is difficult to follow.  Yet it is still incredibly exciting to see all of the various villains teaming up and enjoy the immensity of the battles.  It'll be interesting to see how the cee-dub interprets all of this.

Orphan 55.

TV OK, fuck it. On Sunday afternoon I offered a few tweets suggesting I wasn't going to review that night's episode of Doctor Who. That it would be good just to sit and watch it without having one eye on the ensuing review.  Well, friends, I've tried.  I have.  Look, it's even the middle of the week.  But damnit, the problem with being handed an episode as ruddy awful as Orphan 55, is that it generates opinions and they sit rattle around in your brain desperate to get out.  So here we all are.  It's Tuesday night and I'm typing away at 10:15pm while Google Photos syncs with my phone.  As Mark Kermode says on the Friday film programme he contributes to when some listener writes in to talk about the spiritual journey which resulted from them seeing some turd he had a good rant about the week before, "I'm very pleased that you enjoyed it but I disagree."  If you liked Orphan 55, good for you.  My first review of Fear Her was positive too.

It's not just that Orphan 55 doesn't work as an episode.  It's a comprehensive thesis on what's gone wrong with television Doctor Who in general.  Spyfall suggested an upswing in quality. with the current producers having some sense in what wasn't working after their first season.  But this almost felt like they'd read my year end survey and done the exact opposite.  We're back to the gossamer version of the Thirteenth Doctor with generic Doctor dialogue including insults which seem more suited to her predecessor, her only true emotional beat when her friends notice she's slightly out of sorts after last week's episode.  Once again we have a handful of underwritten characters because the script has to also service an overcrowded TARDIS in a limited episode duration and the Doctor also spends a lot of the episode reacting and offering explanations for stuff.  Plus some hopelessly generic rubber monsters lumbering around, their lighting trolling Mat Irvine with its illumination.

When he infamously appeared on Open Air, Chibbers said, "“It doesn’t seem to have much to it, it hasn’t improved that much since it went off the air. It could have been a lot better; it could have been slightly better written, especially the last story. [...] It was also very clich├ęd, it was very routine running up and down corridors and silly monsters.”  When he took over Doctor Who, one hope amongst many was that these words were like the drums inside Mr Saxon's head, throbbing along at the back of his mind so that he wouldn't and couldn't be capable of creating anything like that.  Yet here's an episode which is exactly that, very cliched, very routine with lots of running up and down corridors and as I said, some very silly monsters.  This third paragraph could be seen as belabouring the point already made in the second, but if he's happy to sign off on a script as repetitious as Orphan 55, then I'm confident enough to follow his direction.

Accusing Doctor Who of cliche, as we've discussed before, is a bit of a non-starter.  Like most long running sci-fi franchises, it's forever eating its own narrative tails.  But jesus, another one about the Doctor going on holiday by mistake?  In an oasis-like resort on an otherwise desolate planet?  Where everything goes wrong?  And everyone on the TARDIS crew is surprised including the Doctor.  Part of the artifice of the show to be sure, but having sat through the equally subpar Nightmare in Silver, another episode which has its fans (mostly fans of its author) but is equally bobbins, I have to wonder, has the Doctor ever had a vacation when everything went right?  True, we wouldn't necessarily want to sit through fifty odd minutes of the Doctor and her fam on sun loungers flirting with each other, but given what ranks as a ratings success on ITV these days, it would at least look like part of the zeitgeist.

The show's second crime - the underutilisation of Laura Fraser.  Regular readers will know that for years I've been desperate for the star of Virtual Sexuality to appear on Doctor Who.  Way back, given her association with RTD following luminous turn on Casanova, that she might have been Billie or Freema's replacement or turned up as a one off companion in 2009, but then time took over and always looked doubtful and now here she is playing generic security officer with a secret, mostly called upon to frown or look guilty for the half hour she's in the episode.  Fraser does this very well, but she's so much better than this material, as are all of the guest cast.  I was never a fan of The Inbetweeners, but it's pretty clear that James Buckley is a pretty big hire and yet he spends most of the thing being a rubbish mechanic who doesn't listen to his son.  In a green wig.

The problem is, like I said, the duration of the story isn't long enough to develop the characters beyond the thinnest of stock elements because so much time is spent with the regular companions.  Back in the old plus one days, remember how even what should be a fairly bland character like Father Octavian in Flesh and Stone received the incredibly poignant death scene because somehow amid the many dispret elements we understood where he was coming from?  That's because between the Doctor, Amy and River we spent time with him amid the shouting.  Granted thumbsucking Bella resonates more here because of her interactions with Ryan, but do we truly care when she dies having been handed the hoariest of old family familiarity twists?  Apart from anything else, do we need another Ryan-centric story like this when Yaz is still right there?  Having three extras was fine in the Hartnell and Davison eras because of story duration.  Now it squeezes everything else out.

But it doesn't help that the supporting characters aren't especially well written.  One of the most fondly remembered characters since 2005 is Raffalo, the blue maintenance engineer in The End of the World and she only appeared in one scene which was only included because the episode was underunning.  Like Rose, she came from the service industry end of the workforce and illustrated to the companion that such social issues still existed in the far future.  It's unfair perhaps to compare Russell T Davies to someone who's only previous screen credits were a couple of episodes of Skins and otherwise mostly in theatre were he seems to have directed more than written but It Takes You Away was my favourite episode of last year so it's a shame to see Ed Hime lose it so conclusively here.  Luthor writer Neil Cross gave us both The Rings of Arkanoid and Hide so no one's perfect, but the character work feels like a first draft which has been rushed into production before anyone has had a proper thought about how they fit and reflect the overall story.

An example of how poorly this develops is in the couple of Vilma played by and her husband Benni.  You know what I'm going to say here.  In a scene which glances towards and RTD script, Yaz cluelessly interrupts Benni's proposal but beyond that we barely have much time with him before he's offed off screen after a death plea.  Despite the best efforts of Vilma actress Julia Foster (who I know best from playing Margaret of Anjou in Jane Howell's stunning BBC Television Shakespeare version of the Second Henriad back in the 80s) because we don't know (a) what exactly has been happening with the very much not aliens and (b) haven't seen him for most of the story, the moment doesn't land.  There's plenty here and elsewhere to suggest that the episode overran considerably and plenty of connecting tissue in character terms went missing in the cut in favour of the often poorly structured action sequences (it's getting late).

But back to (what there is of) the story.  It's probably unfortunate that Trial of a Time Lord was re-released just a few months ago and it's probably pretty ambitious to assume that a lot of the kids watching will have seen The Mysterious Planet and made the connection between Ravalox and this hunk of dirt but surely a few more of them will have been working their way through the rest of nuWho now its available perpetually on the iPlayer and Netflix and wondered whether humanity develops into these dregs (gettit?) before or after they've become the Toclafane.  Like the destruction of Atlantis, the fate of humanity is one of Doctor Who's returning story ideas, but to go back there in such a perfunctory manner doesn't do us or the message of the episode any favours.  Tellingly the TARDIS Databank episode for Humans hasn't been updated with this new data yet and but does find room for the Faction Paradox spin-offs.

Then, oh god, the final speech.  Now, I've seen this called the Thirteenth's iconic moment and its true, Doctor Who has had its spade naming orations when the subtext becomes text.  But the reason the likes of  "When you've killed all the bad buys ..." speech from The Zygon Inversion work is because they're usually addressing an antagonist and are part of the Doctor's own battle.  After an episode when the environmentalist themes have already been enunciated as best they can under the circumstances, this Gallifreyan TEDx talk felt about as natural as Tasha Yar's drugs are bad PSA to Wesley in TNG's Symbiosis. As Paul Whitelaw tweeted yesterday, "The problem with last night's Doctor Who wasn't that it made a political statement - Doctor Who has done that numerous times since the early '70s. The problem was this: an inarguably sound message about climate change was crudely tacked on to an absolute shambles of an episode."  Rosa feels a universe away.

Weirdly the one element of the speech I have less of a problem is how this global catastrophe can be averted.  As we heard over and again in the Moffat era, time can be rewritten.  There have been divergent moments like Cold Blood which almost cause global repercussions not to mention "Doesn't she look tired" wiping out a golden age for UK politics and heralding in Saxon as well as the wasteland the Doctor presents to Sarah Jane in Pyramids of Mars before they brazen their way into winning.  We know the planet blows up anyway some time after it becomes Ravalox.  I've been arguing for years that the universe reboots itself every time a TARDIS lands and the Doctor opens the door so what we saw in Orphan 55 is one possible future, although I'm not sure what the Doctor's three friends can specifically do themselves.  Perhaps Jodie should have just broken the fourth wall and been done with it.  Night, night.

The Fourth Book I've Read in 2020.

Books Via internet purchases and library lending, I now have complete set of Arden 3s so that's me set for reading material for the next few months. Already patterns are emerging at least in terms of my interest. The sections of these books I'm finding easier to approach investigate the textual origins and editing of the plays, sources, production histories and dating.  The pure literary criticism is hard to take, although this edition resourcefully reflects it by providing performance examples.

This edition's editor Juliet Dusinberre offers a very persuasive argument that As You Like It was originally performed at court on Shrove Tuesday in 1599 based, amongst other things, on Touchstone's line about pancakes and mustard which she argues would only have been even half funny if the crowd were eating exactly that and a contemporaneous epilogue jotted down by an audience member which offers a logical replacement for the usual if they were addressing the Queen.

There's also a fascinating discussion in the appendices about which actor in the original company played each role. Shakespeare was writing them with a particular actor n mind so it's possible to extrapolate casting based on external evidence from other play texts and role calls in other publications.  Depending on where you fall with the dating, Touchstone was either played by Will Kemp or Robert Armin.  The former was more clownish and slapstick, the latter droll.

It's still sobering to reflect that Rosalind, who has the largest number of lines in the play and more than most female roles across Shakespeare was played by a fifteen year old boy.  The introduction also reflects on how they would have had to cope with the complexity of being a boy actor playing a woman or pretends to be a man who then pretends to be a woman.  Whoever that was must have been very gifted indeed.

Elizabeth Wurtzel has died.

Life The Guardian has a lengthy news storyAs does Above The LawNPR too.

As you can imagine I'm pretty crushed.  The short version of how I'm feeling now:

Fuck cancer.

Elizabeth Wurtzel was someone who loomed very large for me, in my life and writing.  Her fearless, raw openness and bravery in pushing the barrier in expressing the inexpressible, which often got her into trouble.

She was a constant reminder that it's ok to admire someone while not agreeing with everything they say, which continues to be especially true in this time of polarised and polarising opinions.

I'll take me a few days to some to terms with all of this, but since she has been such an important person to me, I thought I should write something, so here's my Elizabeth Wurtzel story.  Nothing earth shattering but an important moment for me.

For some unknown reason, I was one of the three hundred and twelve people she followed on Twitter.  She began sometime in the late oughts when the social network still felt like a nightclub with a few million punters, possibly when I included her in a #followfriday.

We chatted a few of times over the following couple of years and given how much of a fan I already was of her work, it was always a bit of a jolt when I saw her replying to one of my tweets, especially in 2009 when she asked, "Grew up watching Doctor Who on Saturday mornings with my dad, who happens to also be a Trekkie.  Is there some UK revival?" after I'd posted a link to a review.

Around that time Starbucks has announced their new instant Via coffee.  It had been in development for a while and as this short piece of The Seattle Time explains, its inventor Don Valencia died of cancer a few years before it was rolled out, "Via" being a play on his surname as a tribute.

Like I said, fuck cancer.

Anyway at some point during its launch, after seeing it mentioned on Starbucks Gossip, I lamented on Twitter that it was only going to be available in the US and wondered when and if it would migrate over here.

Within moments, I received a DM from Elizabeth Wurtzel saying that if I gave her my address, she'd see if they had any in the Starbucks near her work and she'd send me some.

I did and evidently she did, because a week later an envelope arrived from Boies Schiller Flexner, the law firm she worked for as, eventually, Director Of Special Projects.  Inside was a compliments slip and three or four Via sachets in the bottom (they were being sold singly at the time).

Which meant I was able to try Via a few months ahead of the rest of the UK.

I still have the envelope and slip somewhere, because when you receive correspondence from people you admire, that's just the sort of thing you do.

She probably would have thought it was a bit silly.

Like I said, this isn't anything earth shattering but it's this little kindness I thought of when I heard the news.

In the decade since I've diligently collected links to her writing which you might find useful.

There's not much more I can say now, so I'll leave the last word with her.  It's from a Reddit AMA she gave in 2013 in which she talks about how difficult it is to become a professional writer:
"Being a writer is extremely hard. This has always been true. It was true for Chaucer. It was true for Shakespeare, who wrote plays to please the queen. No one cares if you write. It has to matter to you so enormously much that you visit your ego upon the world and give it no choice except to care. I agree that this is harder now, not just because there are all these outlets that don't pay, but also because there are ALL THESE OUTLETS. Because of the Internet, there is too much content and not enough audience. It is so hard to distinguish oneself. Here is the trick, I think: You have to be brave as a writer. You have to write in a pure voice that is distinct and rare. It really is not hard. That does not require facility with words so much as it requires lack of fear. Of course, that is hard. Fear is the thing that gets in the way of everything: love, happiness, success.

"I happen to think there were many more opportunities twenty years ago to get a job as an editorial assistant at a magazine and write little articles until you could get assigned bigger pieces. But in terms of becoming an author of a book, the odds are as stacked against you or for you as ever. It is really difficult. But I think if you are sure this is what you must do, you need to be fearless and proceed. It really only works if it is a matter of no other choice."

Spyfall, Part 2.

TV AHistory: An Unauthorised History of the Doctor Who Universe 4th Edition Volume 2 has this to say on the subject of the origin of the Time Lords. It says, "The history of the Time Lords and their homeworld of Gallifrey was shrouded in mystery. The Time Lords knew little of their own past, and much of what was known was cloaked in uncertainty and self-contradiction. It is extremely difficult to reconcile the various accounts of the origins of the Time Lords. The authorities suppressed politically inconvenient facts, although few Time Lords were very interested in politics anyway."  From there it offers a few pointers about how simple hard working Gallifreyans became time travellers, much of it sourced from The Deadly Assassin, The Five Doctors, Lungbarrow what seems like some pretty wild storytelling in the Titan Tenth Doctor comics, none of which really says anything which isn't common sense or knowledge.

So when the Master tells the Doctor everything she knows was a lie what he means is whatever fairy tale the Time Lords passed along to Time Tots to explain their existence, the Celestial Intervention Agency or whoever having classified the secret origins.  Whatever it these are apparently has apparently been enough for the Master to destroy Gallifrey again ("Gallifrey falls no more." "Weeeelll....") so that's a lot for the writers to live up to by the end of this series, whatever "the timeless child" is.  Given the pretty gonzo stuff threaded through the spin-off material, your guess is as good as mine.  But after a pretty vanilla approach to the mythology last year, here we are slap bang in the middle Gallifreyan politics again and the Doctor not even knowing her own origin and although this became a bit tiresome in the Eighth Doctor audios, frankly some of the revivals best stories have revolved around this nonsense so that's all to the good.

The continuing course correction on display in the second half of Spyfall is pretty crazy.  Separating the Doctor from the fam allows both groups to breath.  Finally we see the Fifteenth version (if you use the metric system) in full flow with lashings of agency discovering the horrors of the Master's plan and experiencing her first post-regenerative existential crisis, the audience just allowed to be with her alone in the TARDIS (for the most part) as she considers her immediate future and the fact that she will indeed have to somewhat explain who she is to her friends.  The TARDIS crew also flourish in their own mini-adventure, redolent of episodes when Jamie and Zoe or Amy and Rory would find themselves sans a Time Lord and still commit to whatever mission has been initiated.  Perhaps between her experiences in the other realm and the Grahan and Ryan storyline last year, Yaz will get more of the spotlight this time.

This continues to be an iteration of the show on a grand scale, the Doctor buzzing around in time investigating the mystery of the spies-unlike-us offering us two celebrity historicals for the price of one.  Already online (well alright Twitter) I've seen a complaint about Ada being introduced as Lord Byron's progeny, but that was just context, the Doctor spending the rest of the episode underscoring the future Lovelace's achievements, the direction and writing of her introductory scenes redressing the heinous historical crime which put Babbage front and centre, anonymising her achievements.  His sexist attitude draws withering looks from the two female scientists.  Throughout I thought about friend of the blog Suw Charman-Anderson, who has done much to telegraph Lovelace's contribution and women in STEM in general through Ada Lovelace Day which was ten years old last year.  If anything, this episode is also a tribute to Suw and her colleagues.

A few years into the future and we greet Noor Inayat Khan, Codename Madeline, sometimes Nora Baker someone I hadn't come across, demonstrating the show's continued willingness to be a source of education as well as excitement.  The script perhaps has less time to underscore her historical importance, but fortunately the Extradential wing of the party have published a video detailing both of her biography (along with "Lovelace").  In these fractious times, it's just so right that this silly Sunday night sci-fi series should be front and centre in reminding public the contribution that people of colour have made to our country's history especially at times which have become steeped in nationalistic jingoism.  What the episode doesn't tell us for understandable reasons given the timeslot, is beyond her legacy and posthumous George Cross, Khan personally had no future.  A year after her part of the episode is set, she and three other agents were taken to Dachau and executed.

Would the Doctor have known this?  Probably.  But this is an occasion when the often sunnier disposition of this incarnation is finally eclipsed by the darkness that's usually at her hearts.  Noor seemed to accept the removal of her memories, but Ada's protestations remind us of Donna's pleading, the Time Lord removing these glorious memories for the protection of the time stream.  Again, this is the writer embracing the rich history of the show returning the Doctor to the context which felt missing in the last season and alienated some fans.  If anything its really a shift from the classical approach of last season when the Doctor was an enigma to some degree and barely talked about her feelings to the revival approach of making her loneliness a defining characteristic.  Both are somewhat valid approaches, but the latter provides a connection to those watching, gives us something to latch onto emotionally across shorter episode and season lengths.

In the middle of all that, the resolution of the alien invasion plot is the least interesting element, a reiteration of The Sarah Jane Adventures's Invasion of the Bane and a dozen other stories.  Lenny Henry's Barton really has little do here other than murder his own mother (which is a pretty big step admittedly) and give a TED Talk on the dangers of sharing personal information online for kids not yet old enough to watch films like Antitrust, The Circle, The Social Network or Carole Cadwalladr's actual TED Talk.  Don't do it or you're likely to get a push notification that will try to rewrite your DNA or as is the case in the re-world your political biases.  Plus there's a huge amount of Moffaty sleight of hand utilised by the Doctor to save her friends and end the invasion.  Blinovitch would have if fit if he saw this.  There's a reason why the Doctor doesn't visit the future, discover how the aliens won then drop back in time again to use it against them.  It's anti-dramatic.

And did Sacha Dhawan's Master live up to his initial promise?  Yes, very much so.  Impetuous and devious with a fine line in monologuing, we're back to the old scheme of tantalising the Doctor only to Lucy the American football away at the last moment every ... single ... time.  Dhawan so far seems slightly more comfortable with the larger character based scenes than the cogs and springs of the plot, but there are definitely shades of Ainley as his betrayal of the extra-dimensional spies catches up with him.  Fans of my vintage will have been hanging on every word during the Eiffel Tower sequence, although it was odd that they slipped in a Logopolis reference rather than something from City of Death (especially since it was taking place in a period when Paris was literally just that).  Neither of them mention the events experienced by their immediate previous incarnations, but perhaps that is the Time Lord way, times change and so do they, different people all through their lives.

Much as I enjoyed Jodie's first season, it never did quite gel and in that respect both parts of Spyfall indicate a dramatic return to form.  The deep dive back into the mythology of the show will concern some and probably doesn't have same impact as it perhaps did in 2005 for those of us still knee deep in the wilderness years and requiring RTD in DWM to explain that that in fact his destruction of Gallifrey isn't the same as the one from the The Ancestor Cell novel, even if AHistory later acknowledges this but offers numerous reasons why they might be the same event from different points of view and doesn't the Grandfather Paradox look like the War Doctor (Ninth in earlier editions), he's is wearing a leather jacket, isn't he?  God, I loved this story and somehow I've got to the end of nine paragraphs before mentioning Graham's shoes.  So here's a mention for Graham's shoes.  Graham's shoes are very funny.  See you next week.

Every Second Count.

Books There's much to enjoy in Mark Gatiss's In Search of Dracula (available now on the iPlayer) which for the most part is as thorough an exploration of the history of the dark lord as is possible in an hour, with particular emphasis on those adaptations and projects which don't usually receive the coverage they should, like the Spanish version shot simultaneously with the Bela Lugosi's debut at Universal.  Understandably his survey stops at Gary Oldman in 1992 - there haven't been that many high profile interpretations until his and Steven Moffat's barnstorming version.  But here are a couple I've especially enjoyed since and another thing entirely.

Buffy vs Dracula (2000)

For four seasons, Buffy: The Vampire Slayer followed the habitual rules of vampires lore without directly mentioning the existence of Bram Stoker's creation within that fictional universe (I think!). After the downbeat ending of Season Five, trust Whedon et al to open the fifth season with a total camp fest and a title which must already have been at the top of a fan's imaginative doodles on a LiveJournal.  Rudolf Martin brought some presence to the Count and made the most of the episode's main thread that he was embarrassed by the travesty of what the rest of his race had become.  Xander continued to think fondly of their time together.  The dusting sequences in the Gatiss and Moffat 2020 version cannot be a coincidence.

BBC Cult (2003)

Published a few years before the below when BBC Online still had the budget and freedom to upload content not directly connected to one of its broadcasting endeavours, BBC Cult produced a minisite celebrating Dracula and all things vampire and it's still available (albeit with all of the video content broken and some missing downloads).  But the six short stories by prominent writers including Kim Newman are still intact and the only other fictional entry for the defunct version of the Ninth Doctor played by Richard E Grant, who looks curiously vampiric in both the animation and especially the painted illustration which accompanies this story (and this paragraph).

Dracula (2006)

Another adaptation broadcast over Christmas (what is the connection between the festive season and gothic horror?), this stripped away most of the historical asticrocracy of the Count, with Marc Wootton's interpretation much more of a Byronic or Heathcliffian figure.  Produced out of Cardiff, it's best seen as part of a particularly florid period for the BBC Drama in the mid-noughties when there felt like a particular house style with old school studio casting with almost everyone in this having recently been front and centre in their own prime time slot.  To be honest, I probably tuned in because I'd become quite partial to Sophia Myles, who'd appeared as Madame de Pompadour on Doctor Who earlier that year.  Sorry folks, this was fourteen years ago.

The Third Book I've Read in 2020.

Books New year, new project. Collecting together birthday and Christmas money, I've invested in the remastered boxset of the Argo Shakespeare from the 1950s and 1960s (see here - fortunately I got in while the price was a bit more reasonable than it is now).  These are perfectly lucid if a bit dated readings of the texts and so I'm using it to crack on with the Arden Third Series editions I've been collecting over the years. 

The Arden 3 Othello is pretty conventional for this series with a lit-crit heavy introduction, dry discussion of the two extant texts and comparison with sources at the back and a theatrical discussion relying on playbooks from producions before the turn of the last century (despite photos of more contemporary productions). 

For 1997 it's also pretty musty, focusing on the the "giants" of Shakespeare criticism and a dated use of language around race.  There's particularly no discussion on the implications of blackface beyond trying to decide if Othello is actually "a black" (their words) or of a more "olive" complexion.  Even in the year of publication this must have felt dated.

Having suffered through this, I've since discovered that a revised edition with a new introduction was produced in 2016, so I now have that on order.  I'm a completist.  Having announced a fourth series, it's interesting that they're still updating the third, not to mention still publishing new editions.  Measure for Measure is out at the end of this month.

The Ratings Fall.

TV The Doctor Who News Pages brings us news of the overnight ratings for Spyfall:
Doctor Who Spyfall Part One, was watched by an average of 4.88 million viewers, 21.6% of the total TV audience at the time.

The audience is slightly lower than last year's New Year Special which had an overnight figure of 5.15 million watching.

Doctor Who was the second-highest-rated show for the day with Emmerdale taking top honours with 5 million watching. Coronation Street was third, just behind Doctor Who. The new Steven Moffat series Dracula had 3.57 million watching.

The rating does not include those recording the programme and watching it later. Final ratings will be released in two weeks time which are likely to put Doctor Who as the top-rated show of the day.
Which looks pretty grim, even if it does at least mean we beat Coronation Street on a Wednesday night which for old school fans is something of a win.  It's difficult to criticise this number too much given how low the numbers are across the board.  Emmerdale's 5m isn't anything for ITV to be pleased with, although it was opposite Who itself.

I'm looking forward to Tom Spilsbury's analysis in next month's union circular, but for what it's worth ...

(1)  The pre-publicity for the show has been shockingly complacent.  Given Doctor Who has been off-air for exactly a year, the trailers have been pretty generic and didn't suggest that there would be anything too earth shattering in this opening episode.  Putting the twist front and centre would have been mistake, but a specially shot piece which hinted towards something big might have helped.

(2)  One element which has gone missing since the RTD era is engineering the shock of the new into each season opener.  In his four years, the first episode of every season brought a new element, either Doctor or companion, something to bring viewers in.  Of course, this episode actually does that, but the problem is they couldn't tell anyone.

(3)  It's a toxic time-slot for an opening episode.  A much braver BBC would have TXed this on Christmas Day bunged the second episode out last night and then run the back eight starting at Easter.  Perhaps this wouldn't have been hugely popular amongst the international sales licensees but it sure would have made this feel special.

(4)  I also think that people have just started consuming television differently.  The hard core still tune in on broadcast, but the majority of people will watch it on catch-up in the following seven days.  Those numbers are going to be really interesting this time.

(5)  Overall the show needs to stop pretending that it's still as popular now as it was ten years ago.  With so much content, it has to justify its existence with each new series and although I have faith after that episode the audience will build for the second half (not least because it's back on a Sunday), there has to be something in each episode that will make the general audience want to watch.  I'm not sure we have that right now.

The Second Book I've Read in 2020.

Books  Absolutely inferior as a sequel to the graphic novel in comparison to the television series, it's nevertheless pretty diverting even if it lacks the textual density and original thinking of Moore and Gibbons.  Anything which utilises Dr. Manhattan to explain how the New 52 happened and return the DC universe to something even close to its status before that reboot, it couldn't be anything other than a travesty of the Watchmen.  That said, it is a very good solution DC universe-wise as it not only restores a bunch of old continuity, it uses the multiverse to suggest that every comic ever "happened" with even the new 52 still rocking on somewhere.  There's also the implication, thanks to a reference to a version of Superman fighting Thor and the Hulk that the DC multiverse is just one of numerous multiverses which would include MARVEL and also the Watchmenverse (or whatever its called).  If nothing else, it's made me want to read a bunch of other comics, so job done in that respect.

Spyfall, Part 1.

TV Happy New Year!  Blimey, blimey, blimey, blimey, blimey.  Did I see that coming?  Put it this way, as the fam were arriving at the casino party, I was guessing that the big shock would be that Graham and Ryan would be leaving at the end of the story (Sheffield 2020!) with O revealing his full name and joining the Doctor and Yas as the new companion.  Instead, somehow, in this social media saturated environment and despite the preview screening at the BFI we have this Masterful reveal of such audacity that even as Adele thrums along in the background as I write, I still don't quite believe it and am looking for reasons why this might be a bluff, that it isn't quite the Master.

Up until that point Spyfall is an above average example of a Doctor Who romp in the Chibnall era referencing on a modern genre.  It's fine.  There are riffs on the gadgets and gambling and the other furniture of the Bond films wrapped up in a slightly tortured explanation as to why MI6 are investigating this alien threat because for reasons I hope are explained more thoroughly UNIT and Torchwood have folded ("The Twenty-first Century is when everything changes and we gotta be ready .... so long as our funding remains intact ...").  Who's in charge of the Black Archive now?  The Zygon refugees?  Sorry, I seem to have strayed off point and it's only the second paragraph.

The apparently trans-dimensional aliens are pretty intriguing fodder, their brilliant white form almost luminous enough to create screen burn, their basic silhouette somewhat giving away the notion that they're spies from another universe.  Who are they?  Chibnall's clever enough on this occasion to keep that reveal until the second half of the story which is just the sort of thing you can do when you're making stories with multiple episodes.  If they're not a manifestation of the Faction Paradox or the Toclafane, they're probably something entirely new.  Unless they're the Cybermen from Pete's World again ("Listen to me Den Watts.  I don't care if you have come back from the grave, get out of my pub!").  Or they're just killer dandruff from the planet Hairfollical.

The biggest surprise is the scale.  Where once, three chunks of studio floor and ingenious set design would allow the Doctor and his companions to criss-cross the globe now the show's budget seems to be able to stretch to feature a dozen locations worthy of a Futura Extra Bold caption, even if a couple were probably filmed on consecutive days in South Africa.  This is now a show with the confidence to hire Stephen Fry for what pre-publicity implied would be a huge role only to have him killed off very early on.  Even the Davies era, having a Fry in the cast would be more than enough but here Lenny Henry too as the false antagonist.  As far as we can tell.

There's also numerous course corrections.  The Doctor has far more agency within scenes, proper close-ups without quite so many moments in which the focus remains on the reaction of her friends to her goofiness.  Unlike previous stories, the characters bifurcate into their own storylines rather than all following a single narrative thread, albeit motivated by a mission mentality rather than because of a kidnapping or poorly timed forcefield or some such.  Chris Chibnall's writing has also become fairly self aware, with amongst other things Graham's tendency to narrate everything enunciated and actually being unembarrassed to point out the Doctor is a woman now ("Don't be ridiculous Franklin, I've read the files.  The Doctor is a Man." "I've had an upgrade.  Hi.").

But then, stellar.  Absolutely fandabidozi.  Everything about the introduction of this new incarnation of the Master is machine tooled for maximum effect.  Sacha Dhawan is already a fan favourite thanks to frequent collaboration with Mark Gatiss, notably his casting as Waris Hussein in An Adventure in Space and Time, so having him as the surprise special guest already seems like a big enough post-Christmas present.  Locking him into the story as a previous acquaintance of the Doctor during some unseen adventure further transports him into the friend's zone.  Did anyone else spend half their time trying to remember if Dharwan had indeed appeared as this character in some previous story in such a minor role that we'd forgotten?

My favourite part of the reveal is that the Doctor's only at about stage one of her suspicion and the Master just assumed she'll get there eventually so why wait?  As with Missy, it's not entirely clear how he's able to mask his identity given that Time Lords are supposed have a "feeling", but that's been less than a vague notion since his completely new regenerative cycle.  Plus we haven't yet had an explanation as to how he survived the ark ship at the close of business on The Doctor Falls, how he was able to regenerate and how he managed to take O's form and in some ways I don't want to know.  One of the best elements of the classic series was that the Master just survived.  How exactly he got out of Castrovalva, the Planet of the Ogrons or Lanzarote was besides the point.

While Davos in Iron Fist called upon Dhawan to give a rather one-dimensional callousness which wouldn't necessarily suggest him as an obvious replacement for Michelle Gomez (assuming he isn't some earlier previously unseen incarnation), his performance is extraordinary, channeling the manic camp energy of Ainley and Simm (and Jacobi in the audios) rather than the avuncular logic of Delgado.  It's early days, but arguably these few minutes are as ballsy and rewatchable as Tennant's introduction as the Doctor during The Christmas Invasion, so brilliantly does he nail the lunacy of the character.  Now that the jellicle has the escaped the receptacle, I can't wait for him and Jodie to be properly locking their Northern vowel sounds.

Is he a Master from an alternative universe, rather like Mark Gatiss in the Big Finish Unbound episodes with the various earths overlapping with one another an indication of some kind of multiversal crisis?  That would explain why the Doctor doesn't sense his presence.  When he says to her "Everything you think you know .... is a lie ..." does he mean since the start of this story or earlier?  Was she already in some kind of alternative reality were UNIT and Torchwood had much less influence anyway?  Or is it simply that Yas has been replaced by an imposter or sleeper agent?  Will all of this be resolved in the next episode or are we going to have a season long arc?  Wow.

The First Book I've Read in 2020.

Books After the superb television series (sorry Darren), it was time to revisit the original after my first encounter during the Science in Entertainment Media course which was part of my Screen Studies degree. Actually none of the spin-offs or adaptations really do justice to Moore and Gibbons's achievement of showing exactly how cynical and swirly a world in which masked heroes actually exist would be and forcing the reader to confront their own morality. Even now the final twist is shocking and those splash pages unforgettable and demonstrate that for all Zack Snyder's protestations of being a fan of the Watchmen, in changing the ending (whatever the reasons) it doesn't really understand them at all (something which is true of almost everything he's ever directed).

Predictions 2019.

That Day We reach the time when I assess how well I predicted the ups and downs of the year and look forward to the next. Here we go again:

Trump doesn't complete the year as President.

No. Zero marks.

Brexit cancelled.

No, very much not. Zero marks.

The BBC launches a pay monthly archival streaming service in the UK.

Does Britbox count? Maybe? On Boxing Day it uploaded all of surviving Doctor Who from the sometimes classic era, so I guess? One mark.

Arriva Click expands.

Technically?  Although it's still only in South Liverpool and one other place, Leicester at the moment, they've been adding dozens of buses.  I'm giving myself this half.

I'll lose a couple of stone in weight.

Sadly not. Indeed since my hernia operation I've put a couple of pounds on. Zero marks.

1 and half out of 5. Which is about average. I'm staying out of politics.

Right then. Come at me 2020 if you dare.

The Sugababes releases a whole new album.

A commercial technology is developed to algorithmically convert standard definition material to high definition quality.

The Doctor Who Omnirumour turns out to be true, almost all episodes returned.

Piers Morgan sacked.

The Arden Shakespeare Series Three publishes Arden of Faversham.

Review 2010s:

Life  Here are ten items I could quite manage to fit anywhere else, some websites, video channels and other web adjacent real world things which have proved invaluable over the past ten years.  It's not exhaustive and at least one entry is here just because it's cool and has a philosophical resonance.  Some housekeeping while I'm here to fill up the rest of the paragraph.  Tomorrow's entry will be the usual dumpster fire that is my annual predictions and then it'll be back on the Doctor Who review treadmill.  I had planned to finally knock out eight paragraphs about The Witchfinders but life has intervened.  Some time next year hopefully.  Anyway, on with the show.

Bob Dylan - Like A Rolling Stone Interactive Video.

Uploaded to publicise the release of a big boxset of Dylan's albums, we're presented with dozens of television channels and programmes in various genres in which every participant is miming Dylan's song.  But amazingly, there are no loops.  Every single stream covers the song from start to finish often in quite sophisticated ways, and sometimes through existing shows like The Price is Right or Marc Maron's sitcom, so it's possible to spend hours on the site just watching your way through everything.  I just wish there was a way to choose a particular stream from the off.  Who knows what we're missing in the opening moments [link].

Cinema Paradiso.

When Amazon closed their flavour of Lovefilm in 2017, I was bereft.  Thank god for Cinema Paradiso which opened at roughly the same time it turned out was the better service all along.  Carrying, it would appear, almost every dvd released in this country, this has been a fantastic replacement with even Network's catalogue having recently been added.  Most weeks I'll get the newest films on the day of release and if it wasn't for their original releases and distribution, I would have cancelled Netflix in favour of it ages ago.  Now here's the inevitable link to their referral programme with its one month of free dvds.


My first encounter with the Haim sisters was during the BBC's coverage of Glastonbury 2014, which was about the time I finally had access to unlimited broadband so went mad watching every stream.  Their half hour set was fascinating enough for me to head straight to Spotify and listen to the whole album and that's pretty much were my musical taste disappeared off to for the next five years.  Bits of that set are still nefariously available on YouTube along with bits of their set from a year earlier and I can relive the experience.  What is she doing with her mouth?  Why is the sound quality so dull?  Why is she so off key?  Yet why am I enjoying this so much? [official website]

Arriva Click.

As I discovered earlier in the year, Liverpool Royal Hospital is a geographically difficult place to visit from home or indeed anywhere if you're using public transport especially if you're visiting with relatives who aren't so hot on their feet any more.  Yes, taxis, but they can prove expensive.  Which is why the Arrive Click service was so invaluable, taking us from door to door via an app at a fraction of the cost.  They're also immensely wheelchair accessible and the drivers are all incredibly friendly no matter the long hours they must work.  Yes, I have a code for that too.  Install the app and enter stuart3e6 in the obvious place.  We both get £7.50 credit for the trouble.

Zinc Tablets

On the list of things which happened to me this decade was contracting oral lichen planus, which when spoken sounds like an incantation from the Underworld movies, but is actually a tongue and gum inflammation which causes white rashes all over the place and a 1 in 1000 chance in ten years of developing mouth cancer. It's caused by a genetic disorder around some white blood cells and described to me as my immune system being at war with itself. One of the side effects can be a zinc deficiency so every morning I have to take zinc tablets to paper over the gaps.

Which has had interesting side effect. Touching wood as I type this, I haven't been sick since I began taking them. For years I've been felled by colds and man flu for days and weeks but recently even when all around are contracting theirs and blaming it on me, I've steered clear. This is apparently not a coincidence. It can be a "cure" for cold if taken early enough. If I do feel a bit run down, it barely lasts an hour or two and I'm all ok.  So I've learnt that zinc tablets are an excellent way of keeping disease at bay.

Radio Garden.

Radio Garden is magic.  It's a way of accessing thousands of internet radio streams across the world through a graphical representation of the Earth.  Hover over an old holiday destination or a city you're curious about and all of the local services roll out before you.  Twenty seven pages worth in New York, fifty-one in Paris.  Originally created to coincide with an exhibition at the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision and recently turned into a company by one of its developers Jonathan Puckey, long may it continue [listen here].

Box of Broadcasts.

Yes, again.  But this is one of the best websites around.  Available to anyone with an academic log-in who's institution has subscribed (which is most of them), Box of Broadcasts is a massive streaming database of everything broadcast on terrestrial television and radio since about 2006, all the films, comedy, drama, documentaries, everything.  Added to that is a range of archival stuff requested for upload by staff and students, as well as anything the BBC's broadcast about Shakespeare, productions and the like.  For academic purposes only of course, but we're all learning about everything, all the time, aren't we? [visit]

Dirty Feed.

Begun on the January 1st 2010, John Hoare's blog has found a niche as the place to go for the miscellaneous detail of pop culture, most often 80s BBC sitcoms, such things as highlighting the differences between broadcast and video release versions of Hi-Di-Hi or most recently how the Doctor at Large series provided John Cleese with a testing ground for ideas which would eventually end up in the DNA of Fawlty Towers.  One masterwork is this biographical piece about working as the TX at Channel 5 over a twenty-four hour period which really sheds light on the numerous errors and problems which can occur on any television channel [visit].

The Internet Archive.

Did I say these were all going to be websites you'd never heard of?  But more than any other resource, the Internet Archive continues to be a force for good despite its dubious interpretation of copyright laws.  Whole runs of defunct favourite magazines of the past like Zzap! 64 and Smash Hits, abandoned software runnable in the browser and other dead media like this VHS vault.  Look at this beautiful 1907 volume about Liverpool or biography of Shakespeare by Sir Walter Raleigh.  This collective effort to preserve our cultural history must be protected.

All The Stations.

Bit of a late entry but also proof that sometimes YouTube's algorithms are a good thing.  In 2017, Geoff Marshall and Vicki Pipe spent the summer visiting all of the Network Rail stations across Great Britain, funded by Kickstarter and producing four or five videos a week about the trip.  In October this year, I binged the lot, watching them travel the length and breadth of the country and showing that the railways are one of our most important resources and need to be protected and expanded.  Informative, funny and often poignant, this is top-end comfort viewing thanks to Vicki and Geoff's genial company and a general sense that so long as we can get around, it'll be all right in the end [visit].

Review 2010s:

Books As you know I'm not much of a reader thanks to the sheer effort it takes me to get through even a single chapter. But every year I try and so have been able to cobble together a list of ten books so as not to break the format of these decadal review posts, although I haven't managed to pin them down to a book per year so the middle of the 2010s is pretty fallow.  There are numerous older classics which I got around to this decade but here are a few items which were actually published in the past ten years [along with links as to somewhere you can buy the relevant volume].

Liverpool: Walks Through History by David Lewis

Originally published in 2004, this newer edition seemed to have few revisions which only made it more fascinating as I worked my way through its various strolls through the city as I compared the text to the new post-2008 actualities.    But as a wise local once said, "the more the world is changing, the more it stays the same."  Most of us townies probably don't know as much about the city's history as we think we do, and there were few richer experiences than walking the pathways of the old Overhead Railway [buy].

Different for Girls: A girl's own true-life adventures in pop by Louise Wener

Incredibly frank and hilarious window into the Brit Pop era from arguably one of its most undervalued proponents.  Except Wener is brutally honest about the bands limitations and why Sleeper never did manage to reach the heights of Oasis and Blur (although arguably this had as much to do with sexism within the industry as the actual quality of the records).  If you're in the mood for  "a think piece about a mid-level band struggling with their own limitations in the harsh face of stardom", this is it [buy].

Off The Telly: The Best Bits of the British TV Website 1999-2009

Seems only fair to include at least one survey of the previous decade here.  The web of the noughties feels like a very different place and here's a time capsule of the kinds of television writing which happened in the period before YouTube became the main outlet for amateur reviews.  Most of the people featured here have gone on to work for professional publications.  God, I miss writing for these guys and I've entirely forgiven the editors for no including any of my writing between these pages.  It's all archived on this blog anyway [buy].

Touched by an Angel by Jonathan Morris

Given the amount of Doctor Who I've watched, read and heard this decade, it seems unfair to keep harping on about this single story but very little of that material has had the kind of visceral effect that listening to the audiobook version of Morris's book had on me back in 2011.  It's one of those occasions when a spin-off novel transcends its form and deserves to be considered alongside the so-called more important works of the decade.  Even if reading Who novels isn't usually your sort of thing, if think you'll enjoy the Louise Wener book, you'll probably like this too [via].

The Art Museum

Although my monthly visits to London have scratched my itch for see world class masterpieces of the kind which rarely reach Liverpool, it's still a huge proposition to see some of the world's treasures and although you simply can't replace the experience of seeing a painting with a photograph and a small one at that, it's nevertheless still hugely bracing to be able to compare and contrast objects from across the world in numerous venues all on one page [via].

Scala Cinema, 1978-1993 by Jane Giles

On the face of it, this is just a working history of a repertory cinema, a record of the films it presented in its multiple venues through reproductions of its monthly fliers, of most interest to those who spent that decade and a half within its walls.  But it's also a record of a time lost, when the only way to see these films was on the big screen and sometimes through a print which was barely holding itself together as it passed through a projector.  It's also a cultural history as the Scala offered a haven for people in sub-cultures and lifestyles otherwise shunned by the rest of society [via].

William Shakespeare and Others: Collaborative Plays. Edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen

Thanks to computer analysis, the authorship of plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries was in even greater flux this decade so that we've finally been able to test whether some of the plays erroneously included in the later editions of the Folio have any elements of his writing within.  This edition's discussion notes offer much detail on who actually authored the likes of Locrine and The London Prodigal and finally ties up whether Arden of Faversham should be included in the canon.  Which it should [via].

The New Oxford Shakespeare: Modern Critical Edition: The Complete Works.

This was the other approach, to take a completists view and attempt to construct a hard chronology of Shakespeare's writing, including the plays and fragments of plays that he is agreed to have written in their correct place alongside entries for his lost plays like Cardenio and Love's Labour's Won.  It also faces up to centuries of dogma about who wrote or rather rewrote some of the texts which appeared in the First Folio, a text which yes, preserved many plays which we would have lost but nevertheless had a shoddy approach to representing authorship [via].

Why I'm No Longer Talking About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

Growing up, Eddo-Lodge found that much of the teaching about black history was from a US perspective and the much of her book is about righting that oversight and providing a fulsome and detailed of the UK experience across fifty-six pages offering some balance with a tour of the international slave trade, the windrush, the 80s riots and Stephen Lawrence.  The country continues to be in the grip of structural racism with a patronising attitude to criticism because the people making the decisions have really lived the experience [via].

Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez

A monumental work which has the potential to change cultural consciousness, this is endless paragraphs and chapters of pointing out just how male-centric all aspects of society are, from the health service and research, through the world of work, right through to the devices we hold in our hands.  The author's audiobook reading was minutes of intense listening punctuated by my audible curses as I realised just how blind I'd been to even the toilet problem.  Hopefully by 2030 this will look like a quant artifact of a bygone era.  Right now, it's vital [via].

Review 2010s:

TV  If anything the 2010s were the year when I receded further from watching television as a linear broadcast model to a streaming affair.  Much of my watching, especially in the bottom half of the decade has been through iPlayer, Netflix, Amazon Prime, NowTV and notably YouTube, which thanks to its ability to deliver content covering very specific interests and from abroad makes it unbeatable and addictive.  About the only "live" television I've watched recently has been political, debates and hearings on both sides of the atlantic, through BBC Parliament and C-Span.  That explains why so many of the programmes I've chosen did not necessarily debut through an aerial, cable or satellite dish.

The Virtual Revolution

The decade opened with a series that offered opposing views on the potential for the internet.  Led by Aleks Krotoski. The Virtual Revolution offered great optimism as it traced the history of online culture until that point, revealing the origins of social media and how it had shaped revolutions in the decade before.  The original version of the website include the programme's entire source material, interviews and linking shots so viewers could mash-up their own version.  A year later, Adam Curtis's All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace proposed that on the contrary, amongst many other things, humanity has become a slave to technology and a gestalt content editor.  In truth, as the ensuing decade showed, we've become something in between.

The Hour

Twenty-eleven was a big year for future Doctor Who Romola Garai with The Crimson Petal and White and The Hour putting her at the forefront of the BBC drama, a Golden Globe nomination the result of the latter.  Like Party Animals and the like before it, this was British television attempting to offer something other than the same old tired genres, succeeding brilliantly but not finding enough viewers interested in watching this kind of drama to justify its existence.  At which point the very viewers who failed to watch it then complained about seeing the same old tired genres.  My continuing suspicion is that this would have been perfect for the 9 o'clock drama slot on BBC One.  Writer Abi Morgan has apparently been shopping around a sequel since 2018.  Good luck with that.

The London Olympics

With everything which has happened since, was this the last occasion the nation was united about anything?  Yes, the 2016 Olympics were popular, but a lot of that happened at weird times of the day, whereas the London Games were all in prime time, so much so that the final night's presentation of the swimming contest fell over onto the red button channel.  This was probably the last time I committed myself totally to a live sporting event, somehow contriving to watch all but two of the British gold medals won live and only because those two, Tim Baillie and Etienne Stott in the canoe double and Luke Campbell the boxing bantamweight because they clashed with gold hopes elsewhere.

The Night of the Doctor

Doctor Who's second decade since the revival has had variable fortunes and to be honest not really been able to live up to the peak of the 50th anniversary, for which the Capaldi years often felt like a long hangover from the aftershow party.  But for fans of a wilderness years vintage, nothing will quite match turning to the iPlayer or YouTube at lunch time on the 14th November to be greeted with a new television episode for the Eighth Doctor in which we finally discovered the circumstances of his regeneration and that they didn't lead directly into Rose.  You can see the extent of my subsequent fangasm in the review I spent that afternoon writing (posted here), not quite able to get over the now hilariously out of date Big Finish references (Tamsin but not Liv or Bliss?) (poor Liv and Bliss).

BBC Genome

The project to scan to turn the Radio Times into a massive database containing broadcast details for every BBC channel and programme in the past century seemed like a myth and impossible and yet in 2014 here it was available to the public for the first time.  Initially it just seemed like an excellent way to see easily what was being broadcast at the time of your birth (Nationwide) but has since had a profound effect on how we think about broadcasting, especially in an archive sense, wondering why some shows have become forgotten while others emerge on streaming services over and over again.  Links back to the BBC website, to clips and full programme are also allowing us to see glimpses of that history, beginning fittingly with a talk by The Time Machine author HG WellsSoon to be updated with details since 2009 and a new look that more closely resembles the BBC's old programme pages.

Agent Carter

MARVEL on television was full stream ahead in 2015, with Daredevil on Netflix, another series of Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter which despite a slightly muddled second series, is still one of the best examples of how the recently disbanded MARVEL Television could experiment with formats and tones which the films didn't quite have the confidence to attempt ... yet.  But it was also a victim of the fractured nature of how these series are licenced, with FOX Television on Sky snapping it up when Channel 4 passed, despite it being part of the wider narrative of that year's SHIELD, with a flashback cameo from Hayley Atwell in that series to boot.  Now that MARVEL Studios have taken over the television wing everything will all be in one convenient place.  Plus.


Yes, yes, I know, booorinnng.  But even by 2019 standards, 2016 was a terrible, terrible year and Fleabag was one of the bright spots.  Although the elements weren't completely new - Clandestine Bandersnatch broke the fourth wall just as conspiratorially if more homicidally as The Hollow Crown's Richard III in the same year, Pheobe Waller-Bridge's title character implicated us in her behaviour whilst also drawing us into her tragedy.  Having subsequently read the text of the original play, it's possible to see how skillfully she opened it out to the a full six episodes, adding dimension to supporting characters who were otherwise just voices off stage.

The Good Place

The Good Place is special.  Like All Along The Watch Tower or The Red Wedding, at the close of the its first season it upends the viewers expectations of the kind of show they're watching by apparently throwing out its entire premise.  The effect is rather like if the characters in FRIENDS got to the end of the first season and were seen to wake up in suspended animation chambers and we discovered they were actually on a deep space mission and the sitcom New York we'd been watching was a simulation.  Ross and Rachel were already married, Chandler and Joey were fuck buddies and Phoebe was the Captain.  Or something.  The Good Place should be seen as one of the pinnacles of its form.  God knows how they're framing it in academia.

Mark Kermode's Secrets of Cinema

The decade opened with The Story of Film: An Odyssey, Mark Cousins's meandering event series covering the history of cinema for Sight and Sound readers which arguably led to the flourish of online film essays from the likes of Every Frame a Painting and Nerdwriter1 making accessible the film studies classes I spent nearly ten grand attending in the mid-noughties.  Imagine my surprise at the close of the 2010s when Kermode pops up providing what amounts to a pretty coherent investigation of different film genres, the topic of my MA dissertation, even if (I don't think) he ever used the words semantic or syntactic.  More episodes coming next year apparently.  Good.

Prince Andrew and the Epstein Scandal: The Newsnight Interview

Watching the recent restoration of Monty Python's Flying Circus reveals how much of the television landscape, which they spent half the series saturising, consisted of lengthy interviews of the kind which most people would expect to find on podcasts now.  But what this special Newsnight (and the various interviews during the election campaign) demonstrated is that with a forensic, well researched interviewer like Emily Maitlis and a fascinating subject, there are still acres of drama in watching two people sat in a room talking.  Andrew did not need to give this interview.  Afterwards he was apparently punching the air due to what he thought was a success.  The time in between was utterly riveting and the best drama on television this year (that isn't Watchmen).

Review 2010s:

Film Boiling a whole decade's worth of film watching to just ten items is a nonsense but let's do it anyway. In the middle of the decade, I posted a weekly non-review of a favourite film in each year across a whole century, but that stopped with the 2014 installment so really the following is about providing some closure to that project, bringing the choices up to date. But unlike most of that other list, I don't really have enough perspective to say that these really are my favourite films of those years and even as I write this introductory paragraph I'm regretting a couple of the choices, but as a barometer of the kinds of films I've enjoyed in the 2010s, this as good as any.


Christopher Nolan has consistently been one of the most interesting directors of the past ten years, but that's true of his entire career.  With Inception he demonstrates, just as the Wachowski sisters did ten years earlier with The Matrix that it's entirely possible to produce a film with all the excitement of a typical summer action blockbuster but with the intelligence and weight and beauty of a Tarkovsky film.  Inception's storytelling structure expects much its audience, running across genres and narrative threads in a way which tests our concentration and imagination.  Arguably there have been numerous films since which have attempted the same trick.  Many of them are in this list.  Both Dunkirk and Interstellar would have been here too if this decade hadn't been overstuff with so many great films.  But there was something about Inception which felt fresh and a harbinger for a really exciting decade to come.

Chalet Girl

Chalet Girl was 2011's secret classic.  I suspected at the time the teenage version of me would have judged it the year’s best.  Well, now I'm forty-five and I'm still saying it was.  It's essentially a British take on the Mary-Kate and Ashley cultural tourism series, but throughout exploding expectations of the genre by making the bitchy blonde rival the best friend, putting the handsome suitor at the epicentre of a discussion on class politics and hiring Bill Bailey to play an emotionally crippled Dad. But the key success is Felicity Jones as the eponymous service worker who uncannily appropriates in her tiny form some of Katherine Hepburn’s verve, timing and just general weirdness, taking full advantage of a script which is drenched in buckets full of cynicism and still able to look just plain cute in a ski coat against the snow. It's just a shame the typically mishandled advertising campaign and critical reaction put everyone else off.

Cabin in the Woods

Does Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon's film count considering that it sat on the shelf since the decade before? Well, since most of us didn't get to see it in the meantime, enough time in fact for Chris Hemsworth to play Thor and become a major star, then it probably does. If most of the films in this list share one element, it's that they're endlessly rewatchable because you like spending time with the characters, even the evil science guys due to them being endlessly adorable despite their nefarious aims.  But it also shares the element of trusting the intelligence of the audience by confronting us immediately with what would have been the twist at the first act break in lesser works and balancing the various story elements.  There's an argument for this being the best thing Whedon's written outside of the special episodes of Buffy.


Here's another one.  Gravity also straddles the divide between blockbuster and art film.  Amid the heart stopping action sequences, there are moments of sheer awe as we see our blue bauble home drift by in the background and Bullock's character simply stops and watches with us.  An incredible artistic achievement, almost every scene in Alfonso Cuaron film is computer generated, with moments in which the only organic element is Sandra Bullock or George Clooney's face.  This photorealistic animation would reach its most recent apogee in the remake of The Lion King, but whereas that sapped the emotion from scenes as the animals faces failed to emote in any meaningful way, Cuaron remembers that the best way to bridge the uncanny valley is the give the audience something they can relate to.  Arguably has the best final shot of the decade too.

Stories We Tell

There's been a recent vogue for film documentaries with a major narrative shattering twist in the middle (Three Identical Strangers, Searching for Sugarman) and Stories We Tell has one of the strongest. Sarah Polley reflects backwards on her own life tracking the story of the relationship between herself and her father through her career to the point that afterwards we can remember the huge, life shattering moments which occured when she was shooting particular films, notably during the little seen but actually pretty good Mr Nobody.  Few films of this genre have been quite this raw and emotionally open.  IndieWire interviewed Polley about its legacy back in July.  Although later in the decade Polley would write and produce the superb Netflix series Alias Grace, she's not directed since.  Hopefully this will change.


Bought for distribution at Sundance by Netflix in the time before such projects would be labeled as "Originals" and provided with the associated publicity and so ironically causing unfortunate obscurity, Jennifer Phang’s indie wonder Advantageous glimpses a dystopian future in which an older woman is given the choice of losing a job which guarantees her child’s future, or sacrificing her own identity.  Tense, impressionistic, refreshing and warm filmmaking.  It's still available on Netflix all of these years later and although it's just possible I've inflated its quality in my memory, it still feels like an important commentary on how non-western cultures are co-opted and modified outside of their native countries.  See also the Hollywood remake of Ghost in the Shell.


You could argue that I have a very samey taste in films, and you'd be right, since this is another with a female lead within a piece of contemplative sci-fi.  Rewatching Arrival recently, I was struck by just how upfront its message of international co-operation was in a year when such things seemed impossible and still do a couple of years later.  But like Amy Adams's character, I remain hopeful despite knowing that the future is already to some degree set.  In that film its because of the laws of physics and alien technology, in our world the weakness of righteous nuance in the face of simplistic but effective messaging.  But a pendulum always swings back, and it still will however long it takes (assuming the everything doesn't blow up in the meantime).


Even more than some years, 2017 was an incredible year for film and I could have chosen a dozen different films to be marked up in bold above this paragraph. For a few seconds each it would have been Get Out or mother!, Anchor and Hope or Ocean's 8. Wonder Woman! But there was just something incredibly odd and charming about Colossal which somehow managed to be a seemingly indie budget relationship film and a monster mash in a way which didn't quite happen with Godzilla a couple of years later.  Anne Hathaway at her most charming, Jason Sudeikis at his most punchable and incredibly rewatchable.

The Square

The film which made me think again about contemporary art and really rather ruined the entirely unconnected Liverpool Biennial for me later that year (to the point that I didn't even review it on here).  The performances are extraordinary, especially from Claes Bang, the gallery curator with a far too high opinion of himself and a A1 demonstration of white men failing upwards. He's the sort of chap I've been either tried to be or fight with all my heart not to be across the years depending on the social circles I was wanting to join (eventually giving in to Groucho's maxim). Some reviews have suggested the wallet related subplot is the weakest element, but it offers a glimpse of how some people, despite what's being professed through the artworks are unable to appreciate the mechanics of the world outside their tiny spheres of influence.

Avengers: Endgame

Yes, I know. But having dodged featuring an MCU film anywhere else on this list, it seems only fair to put its near season finale at the bottom. Arguably Infinity War is the more substantial and experimental installment and selecting Endgame is a bit like saying Best of the Both World pt 2 is the better half of that Star Trek story, but the Russo brothers somehow managed to bring the curtain down on a decade worth of storytelling across multiple films in a satisfying way which also suggested future potential.  MARVEL apparently have everything mapped out until at least 2026.  So there's still plenty of time for the Beyonder to appear.

Boxing Day Links.

Why is it called Boxing Day?
"Boxing Day got its name when Queen Victoria was on the throne in the 1800s and has nothing to do with the sport of boxing."

Sovereignty and subversion in King Lear:
"Professor Kiernan Ryan argues that the subversive spirit of King Lear remains as powerful as ever, four centuries after it was first performed."

Malls after midnight on Christmas Eve: 'It’s like an out-of-body experience':
"For almost two decades, Australian stores have hosted all-night shopping events in the lead-up to Christmas. Perhaps that’s why being in a mall at 2am feels surprisingly normal."

Christmas leftovers recipes:
"Use up your Christmas dinner leftovers, including turkey and all the trimmings. From stir-fries to pies, these recipes are packed with festive flavour."

Batman Returns: The Christmas Movie We Deserve:
"In which a savior is born and dies for our sins."

The Official Doctor Who Annual 2020.

Books Can we talk briefly about this year's Doctor Who Annual? It certainly looks the part, although we could quibble about the font which is a bit too 1980s futro, although it makes a change from Helvetica.

When the second revival annual was published for Christmas 2007, it contained a reprint of a comic strip from the second issue of Doctor Who Adventures.

Russell T Davies was furious and said later that he made sure that all future annuals under his watch would contain original content.  I'll find a citation for this when it isn't Christmas.

Although the annuals have been of variable quality in the meantime, it's still true that they've stuck to this approach, with 2019 offering a stupendous comic strip with cameos from all the old Doctors.

Scroll through to this year's book and we get a basic synopsis of each of the episodes from the last series, which kids will have already watched endlessly, a couple of pages of puzzles and some text stories, except both the text stories, however nicely illustrated are reprints.

A chapter from David Solomons' The Secret in Vault 13 and one of the stories from Twelve Angels Weeping by Dave Rudden both of which are over a year old which means a young fan may already have received them under the tree last Christmas.

If this was me I'd be somewhat disappointed, however nice the accompanying pictures.

But to make matters worse, both include small adverts for the books themselves which means that parents have shelled out £7.99 (RRP) for the printed equivalent of some free Kindle samples.

Imagine if the 1976 annual had included excerpts from the Genesis of the Daleks and Revenge of the Cybermen novelisations instead of The Sinister Sponge or The Hospitality on Hankus.

Are future fans likely to look back at this 2020 volume with such fond nostalgia?

How did this happen?

Was the commissioning budget for the book so low they couldn't afford to pay someone for new material.  I notice the book doesn't have any editorial credits which makes me wonder if it was created by someone outside of the usual Doctor Who editorial line.

With some much amazing Doctor Who fiction floating around now, it's sad to see what should be and is one of the flagship publications reduced to this poor relation of previous triumphs.

Happy Christmas!