Fingertip.

Life  Despite having every intention of writing here this week, my ability to type has been seriously curtailed due to being unable to use the forefinger on my right hand, the digit I use for pretty much everything.

Last Saturday I received a new mandolin grater and in my glee to try it out, didn't consider the hazards of slicing through a tomato and accidentally removed the skin from the top of my finger.

Blood everywhere, general panic.

So for a week, my pinky has been dosing pain whenever I've accidentally prodded it against anything. 

But the body has incredible healing properties and now it's all closed up and I'm just waiting for the top layer of the skin to sort itself out.

Although I'd be lying if for a few moments right at the beginning, I didn't think it was as bad as this person went through.

Picard again. Picardigan.

TV One of the most fascinating elements of watching all of Star Trek in stardate chronological order the other year was realising that Star Trek: Nemesis isn't the final filmed work on the "prime" Trekverse. That goes instead to the first of the Kelvin Star Trek films and the few seconds just before Spock enters the anomaly which leads to him ending up in the past of the branching reality caused by the emergence of the Romulan ship and destruction of the Kelvin.

Not any more.  News was that the Picard series would be set many years after his time on the Enterprise, but in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the current Trek overseer Alex Kurtzman clarifies that it'll chart his course after the destruction of Romulus in that same film and the catastrophic effect it has to that part of the galaxy.  When Kurtzman et al have said the past that they're about finding gaps within the established canon, they really weren't joking.

In the run up to the release of the film, IDW published Countdown, a prequel comic which explained in long form the events mentioned in the Kelvin Trek the origins of Nero and how Picard and a reconstituted Data were involved in Spock's mission.  The film's co-writer Roberto Orci says that it's canonical unless a future film contradicts it.  Let's see if the new Picard series will and the extent to which is refers to the events of the film from the Primeverse side.

Here's my best guess.  Picard's been acting as an ambassador between the Federation and what's left of the Romulan Empire continuing Spock's efforts dating back to, as the article explains, the Unification two-parter but that something else huge happens which throws the whole business into disarray.  The mandate appears to be to not simply do more TNG but with different people so it has has a different flavour.  How exciting.

Resolutions.



Life For years new years resolutions have been something other people break and so your writer has tended to avoid them. Already plagued by guilt for no particular reason, the last thing someone like me requires is something to actually feel guilty about. But 2019 feels different, the end of a decade, transitional. Since I'm unlikely to make any big life decisions any time soon, unless they're forced up on me, I've decided to make a list of items, of small things I'd like to do and create a set of rules which will help guide me there.

Some of them are frivolous. Some of them are about saving money. Some of them about about changing me. But it feels prudent to type them up here, in public, or as public as this blog is these days, so that there's less incentive for me not to follow them. Then at the close of the year, I can look back at them and see how many I was able to adhere to. The statements are pointedly self-centered and first person and probably has a tone closer to a manifesto or set of commandments. That can't be helped and neither can the fact you'll probably think me a lunatic. You'd be half right.

I want to be healthier and lose weight.

- No chocolate
- No sweets
- No biscuits
- No cake
- No bread
- No cheese
- In fact as little dairy as possible
- Eat more fruit and veg
- Eat smaller portions
- More exercise

[As it says. I've indulged a bit recently and for various reasons been snacking between meals. I do not want to re-consume the five stone lost during my pre-op crash diet in 2013 but equally I don't want to have another crash diet. I've tried but it just fucks with my anxiety. I'll take this gentler approach instead and see where it takes me.]

I want to be more respectful to food.

- No sauces or condiments unless they're integral to the dish.

[No gravy or cheese sauce or pickles or ketchup or horseradish or any of that.  As one chef said on social media the other day, I'm paraphrase and I don't remember who, there's nothing worse than cooking a beef burger to perfection, sourced using some of the best meat available and then having the customer smother it in cheap ketchup that kills the flavour.]

I want to keep my film collection static.

- Do not buy any new or second hand region 2/B dvds or blu-rays this year unless they're MCU, Doctor Who, Star Wars or Network releases or Shakespeare.

[Even after a clear out of off-air dvd-r recordings with what is now shocking picture quality, I still have a couple of thousand films in my collection and with the various streaming services and Cinema Paradiso, it's morally and financially untenable for me to keep adding to them which is all too tempting now the price of dvds has crashed in charity shops and at CEX.  The caveats are mostly obvious.  Network don't licence their films to CP so its worth grabbing them if they're cheap.  I'd also say that region one dvds are excluded, especially if its a film which hasn't been theatrically released here.  I'm trying to reduce the fodder.]

I want to reduce my Big Finish backlog to zero.

- Listen to Big Finish during the walk to and from work.

[All of those £2.99 digital purchases add up.  I'm also behind with the McGanns which is unforgivable.]

I want to keep my book collection static.

- No more new books unless they're Doctor Who TARGET novelisations or on audio.

[After having a sort out this afternoon, I now have about eighth shelves worth of books to read and precious little time to catch up on them.  So yes, cold turkey on buying the printed word.  TARGETs are excluded because I'm collecting them ready for a project.  Since I don't have enough time to sit down and read books too often, I'll try to listen to them instead.  Once I've caught up on Big Finish, I have all seventy-two hours of Stephen Fry narrating Sherlock Holmes to keep me busy.]

Embrace the whole of the Sugababes.

- Listen through the albums and re-appraise Sweet 7.

[After years of having a purists approach to the Sugababes, I was listening to About You Now from the Change album and realised that I've been rather foolish in demoting anything recorded after Siobhan left.  Although there'll be nothing to replace the sweet, soul sound of the original line up, every album after is filled with absolute bangers, and the group didn't reach number one until Freak Like Me anyway.  If you love something, you have to embrace all of it and so just as the Shalka Doctor is as valid as the Third, so Get Sexy should sit right along with Run For Cover.] 

If I think of anything else, I'll add them here.

Doctor Um?



TV Here we are then at the close of another year of Doctor Who. If you've been following my reviews over the past few months, you'll know that having enjoyed this past series, I've sometimes sounded a bit forced. Partly its because after having been writing these amateur texts for the past thirteen years it's becoming increasingly difficult to find a new way of expressing myself and sometimes having to force myself to have an opinion even if it's a shrug emoji.

But there's also been something niggling at the back of my nod about why this hasn't quite gelled sometimes in a way that was obvious even in the odd episode of the otherwise horrendous series eight.  During series eight, I grokked pretty quickly what I didn't like about its portrayal of the Doctor, but with series eleven, because I've been genuinely positive overall about the thing, it isn't until now I've been able to articulate what isn't quite working.

Some caveats.  The following is not a blame game or anger for the sake of it directed at anyone in the cast or indeed the writers.  There's obviously a particular approach which has been taken with the series, so some of this probably due to personal taste.  Everything which follows comes from a place of love.  It's a bit like those moments when The Daily Show with Jon Stewart would do a piece about Obama when they thought something had gone amiss.

The nub of the problem is this.  Much of what we understand about the Thirteenth Doctor is from Jodie's portrayal.  If you try to dispassionately listen the text she's been given and the character she's playing it's largely in the realm of the so-called generic Doctor who often turns up in spin-off fiction when a writer, usually someone who isn't a fan, tells the story of a kind of quirky magician who really doesn't have a relationship to the incarnation which is supposed to striding across the pages.

The most obvious examples of this can be found in Eighth Doctor material either from the period in the novels when his character was only just in the process of formation amongst writers who only had the TV Movie as their source material, or in later years when those who don't seem to be steeped his deep multi-media history have been commissioned to write a story for him.  Alex Scarrow's Spore is a decent example of this.

Now I appreciate that to some extent as Terrance Dicks has said, the Doctor doesn't change and its about what the actors bring to it, and Jodie brings a tremendous amount.  But every version of the Doctor, even in the writing, has a specific interior life or set of behaviors which the audience can relish or not and this shifts over time depending on the writers (the Tom of season twelve is a very different figure to Tom in season eighteen).

But there are numerous choices which are working against her, which stop her burning as brightly as she should, which take the edge off her individuality, which stop us from becoming entirely involved with her story.  Essentially this boils down to the companions and lack of returning elements outside of the core premise related stuff which can't not be part of the adventures.  There's a reason why the Third Doctor was given his TARDIS back so soon.

Initially I enjoyed having multiple companions in the TARDIS, the fam, because it allows for multiple points of view on a story from varying experiences.  They're all compelling characters well played, even taking into account how underwritten Yaz so often is.  Even in the two episodes which are notionally supposed to be about her and her family, the story material shifts pretty sharply to other concerns.

On the one hand can you can compare this to the original TARDIS team and gang who accompanied the Fifth Doctor.  Except stories were told across a far longer duration which meant that there was plenty of time to service all the characters for the most part (poor Nyssa) and give the Doctor a fair shake of the action.  Plus having more companions increased the storyline's direct connection to the Doctor and increased the stakes.

The problem with having this many characters in a much smaller episode duration is that its rare that every character has something meaningful to do and also that the number of supporting characters decreases which potentially lessens the sense of place.  Again this isn't true of all stories - the historical pieces in particular are very well drawn.  But watch how many subplots are between companions rather than a companion and a day player.

The knock on effect of this is to give the Doctor less to do.  Notice how often the story elements which are usually the Doctor's responsibility are handed off to the other characters reducing her "moments of charm".  Graham is utilised as the voice of experience even though she's at least a couple of millennia older than him.  On numerous occasions Yaz or Ryan are off investigating whilst the Doctor is stuck in a room somewhere doing science or investigation.

It's only when Jodie is alone and interacting with a stranger, usually an antagonist, that she really glows because she's finally allowed to be the focus of the scene, its not about the other characters reacting to her behaviour.  The Dalek in Resolution.  The Frog in It Takes You Away.  Finding and entering the TARDIS for the first time in The Ghost Monument.  Finally she's granted a close up of more than a couple of seconds that isn't about her pulling a face.

Quite often the direction of the scenes leads to plenty of reverse of shots of the companion's reacting to whatever the Doctor is doing which is seen in glimpses rather than staying on her work.  On one hand this means that when the camera does stop and really looks at her she's captivating, but it also leads to becoming almost an afterthought within the blocking of some scenes when she should be the star attraction.

Unlike Star Trek, Doctor Who is not an ensemble show.  For the most part.  Although at times the companion has offered the audience's viewpoint into the adventure, the Doctor should always be the centre of attention and the stories should always be within his orbit, because otherwise what's the point?  The least successful stories are always those in which a ton of action occurs across multiple scenes and then the Doctor arrives and fixes things.  The Time Lord should be in the thick of it.

If I had a preference, it would be for the series to continue with Yaz as the main companion - Graham and Ryan feel like their story's been told.  Their story arc is ultimately disconnected from the Doctor and often feels like Chibbers returning to a place of safety because he's otherwise overwhelmed by the business of writing Doctor Who.  It should be the Doctor who steps up and offers the healing wisdom, be the fixed voice of calm not just tossing out insults.

The grand gesture in series eleven was that none of the episodes would feature a returning monster in order to give a new audience a jumping in point and they don't feel like they have to have a Doctor Who fan site on hand to understand any of it.  For the most part, giving Thirteenth her own adversaries works well even if, again because of the sheer amount of regular cast members, these antagonists only really exist in relation to the TARDIS team's reaction to them.

Except its usually returning elements which help to define a new incarnation and one of the more exciting results of having a different actor in the role is in seeing how they embrace these kisses to the past.  This also includes how a new production team absorbs them into the new way of doing this things and how they'll bring their own version of what has already been established.  The Cybermen are in a constant state of flux.

Sometimes a companion is carried over.  Third and Fourth both had very different relationships with Sarah Jane, just as Eleventh and Twelfth both approach Clara in a completely different manner.  As well as reformatting the series, having UNIT in the Third Doctor's first story offered a glimpse into the dandy's opinion of the military in comparison to the clown.  Chibbers apparently doesn't want us to see how Thirteenth, Kate and the Osgoods would react to one another.

But monsters are equally important.  Again with the Cybermen, but notice how it allows Second in Tomb to enunciate just how different his approach to intervention is to his predecessor.  When RTD reintroduced the Daleks in 2005, he did it half way through the series because it offered the chance for another wave of publicity and arguably the Ninth Doctor didn't really come into his own until he was staring down the lens of his mortal enemy.

Imagine if Resolution had been broadcast mid-series with a heavy publicity campaign telling us the Daleks were back but not quite as we remember them.  People would tune in out of curiosity to see if the relaunch was better than the iDaleks and also to see how Jodie's Doctor dealt with their return.  Much as happened back then, they would have seen her in a stand off against her foe in some of her strongest moments so far.

Like I said, all of this comes from a position of love and it has to be said I do love the Thirteenth Doctor.  I just wish she was given more to do, narratively treated better.  She should be the centre of attention but as I also said Chibbers seems more comfortable writing other things almost as though he's so afraid of cocking up this awesome responsibility.  So he's presenting story arcs which could be an element of any series which just happen to be playing across the TARDIS's travels.

Making the show now seems like its become a real ordeal between having to deal with potentially international buyers, licensees and tons of scrutiny from all sides, fans to media.  Plus, in cutting the duration of the series down by two more episodes, there's even less chance to catch lightening in a bottle or articulating what it is that you're trying to achieve.  Let's see if lessons have been learnt when series twelve is broadcast.  Whenever that might be.

Buying Audible audiobooks on the cheap.

Books Or rather, cheaper.

I noticed this over Christmas when buying some of the 99p offers. They'd include the ability to add narration so that the reader and swap between text on screen and having the book read to them - which turns out to be the actual, complete audio book.

Here's an example.

The Kindle version of Doctor Who: The Day She Saved the Doctor: Four Stories from the TARDIS is currently £3.49.

You can currently add Audible narration to your purchase for just £2.99 which is £6.48.

The audiobook alone is £12.24 outside of an Audible subscription. So that's a saving of £5.76.

Obviously the savings vary. The current no 1 in the Kindle chart is The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson at £9.99. Extra audible narration read by the likes of Dennis Quaid (who played Clinton himself in The Special Relationship) is £7.99, so £17.98. The audiobook is
£19.24 so about £2.50 cheaper.

These audio books all appear in the Audible app and downloadable.

Obviously, whether you want to spend that much money on something you don't physically own is up to you but that's true of all legal digital media.

Regeneration of the Author.



Books Lindsay Ellis's latest video essay is about Barthe's Death of the Author and the relevance it has to some modern texts, especially John Green's The Fault In Our Stars. Barthe posited that one should only approach a text on the basis of what's in the text rather than the author's intent or any paratext, that such things are irrelevant.  As Lindsay points out that would be fine if we lived in a perfect world were every writer had the same opportunities and could reach the same public and be accepted writing about any subject matter, but that simply isn't the case.

She notably doesn't mention how this works in shared, multi-author universes in which no single voice controls the entire output.  You would think that spin-off fiction for the great franchises would demonstrate the death of the author in that it features a group of authors working towards a much larger grand narrative - except that isn't the case.  Back when I was reading Star Trek novels, I knew that something by Diane Duane or Peter David or The Reeves-Stevens would be different experiences, in terms of wordage, subject matter and view on the franchise.

It's also particularly true of Doctor Who, which is essentially an anthology series with a single protagonist (for the most part) and regular supporting characters.  Setting the RTD v Moffat v Chibbers comparisons to one side, even regular spin-off writers have a particular style.  Paul Magrs, Johnny Morris, Lawrence Miles, Steve Lyons, Jac Raynor and Eddie Robson among many others others all have different interests and I'd say that there are some writers whose work I always go out of my way to read or listen to no matter which era they're working on.

What was especially interesting was when authors who'd become synonymous with a particular era went on to write for the revival tie-ins.  Would a casual reader appreciate what Paul Magrs is doing in Sick Building or Lance Parkin in The Eyeless and how that compares to some of the more down the line, less experimental works?  I don't know.  But as Ellis shows in the video, its impossible to view a text in and of itself.  There will always be patterns, expectations and assumption on the part of the reader generated by their perception of the creator.

Resolution.



TV Happy New Year! Right, let's get the UNIT dating controversy over with first, the controversy being that there isn't one. According the TARDIS Datacore, the version which exists in the 2040s on Earth-5556 is a shadow of its former self and Alice O'Donnell is a UNIT fan girl in Under The Lake which also suggests that UNIT is still in operation.  Apart from that everything we know about the organisation across media happens before the 1st January 2019 so Chibbers has a pretty free hand in what he wants to do with it, which in this case is to have it on ice presumably as an explanation for why Kate Stewart and the two Osgoods don't appear in this story.

There are a few knotty implications to this.  Who monitors the fifty odd thousand Zygons still living on Earth?  Are there still two Osgoods?  What about the Black Archive?  How does Torchwood factor into this, or C19?  It's shared universe syndrome, add a bit of continuity here watch a morass of mythology seep out at the other end.  The Doctors haven't always phoned UNIT when they've been in the vicinity of some alien threat (especially when the Brig's in Geneva) so Chibbers must be making a point about something here - or setting up a story line for the next series whenever that's being broadcast or indeed a future Big Finish boxed set.

Next of all, how about no one recognising a Dalek despite multiple invasions over the past decade or so?  The implication has been that either because of the cracks or rebooting the universe or some other Moffat fueled merriment (or the Faction Paradox) that Earth is once again a bit surprised about the existence of aliens, thereby sorting out the Van Stattan continuity error amongst other things.  Time has been rewritten and so forth.  It is interesting that throughout this series, humans have in general been less phased about the existence of alien life in general.  Perhaps its a mutable thing, oscillating depending upon the needs of the story.

What are my resolutions?  As I suggested yesternight, lose some more weight and be disciplined about it.  Otherwise, try to catch up on my Who backlog, across audios and novels and blu-ray releases.  I'm trying to have a daily dose of Doctor Who of which tonight's episode will probably be the only example broadcast on television.  Soonish I'll hopefully have something near a complete run of TARGETs and I'm planning a blogging project around that, my other resolution being to stop neglecting this place so much, to post at least something every day.  Yes, I know, I've said that before.

All of which skimming around the surface suggests I'm stalling in my opinion of Revolution, I'm really not.  With a couple of reservations that was a barnstorming hour of Doctor Who with Jodie's Time Lord bursting with such energy her hair seemed to grow and shorten depending on whether she was in the TARDIS or not.  Finally we got to hear her say the big mythology words like Dalek and Skaro and sound like she exists within a wider continuity or context.  As has always been the case with each incarnation, you finally get a feel for the characterisation when the Doctors face their biggest foe and here's Thirteenth fighting against a desperate situation with brio and optimism.

Pitting her against a single Dalek is a good move because it allows for a more focused stand off as per Ninth in Dalek or Twelfth when he entered Into The Dalek.  Unlike those occasions, this was not about the squid fighting their programming, this recon organism, wants nothing other than conquest and is unable to even comprehend benevolence.  However impressive it is to see thousands of CGI pepperpots flying through space, sheer numbers can't make up for watching the calculated a single example lean in to its sadistic nature and embrace its internal superiority.  Under Nick Briggs's vocal control, there are few things scarier than hearing one of these things laugh.

In a nice bookend to the start of the season, we also see the Dalek utilising local materials to fashion its casing.  This hybrid between captured parts and refashioned materials is somehow even scarier than the revived Who's metallic design and also more in keeping with the antagonists orgins than the iDaleks from 2010 (yes, the new paradigm was nearly eight years ago folks and we're still getting over it).  The fact that this sucker is home made will hopefully inspire kids to hash their own together using bits knowing that it doesn't have to look perfect to be canonical.  Meanwhile, collectors of the Doctor Who Figurine Collection have another variation for the shelf.

The episode began well with the three sections of a thing being separated so as not for another terrible thing to happen.  Arguably this is exactly the sort of mcguffin RTD was taking the piss out of in The Last of the Time Lords (something he enjoyed so much he repeated it a year later in Journey's End), making it part of this cross continental, multi-generational effort gave it enough heft that it provided the epic introduction a seasonal episode probably requires especially since it then focuses the rest of the episode back in Sheffield.  You could imagine a prose version of this turning up as a prologue in a wilderness years novel.

Much less successful is the emotional B-plot between Ryan and his Dad.  This isn't a criticism of the performers - Tosin's the strongest he's been all season here and Daniel Adegboyega (who previously played a guard on Torchwood's Miracle Day) gives Aaron a real sense of regret.  It's just that the catastrophic Dad figure has become something of a trope in the Who revival era, with Rose, Martha and Clyde and innumerable supporting characters in between having had to deal with paternal toxicity.  The comparison with Clyde from SJA is especially galling -- the character beats are incredibly similar right down to having the father being possessed by the alien of the week.

All of this also drew away from the A-story and I'd guess that most viewers would have preferred some more of the Doctor doing stuff than one of these too long scenes between Ryan, Aaron and Graham however well performed.  The idea's presumably to tie-in with the episode title, but this stuff simply didn't feel connected enough to the main plot and in my acronym for having humble opinion, Doctor Who's at its strongest with the various plot elements are motivated by the overall story.  The US production model tends be a bit more relaxed in this regard because of the amount of durational real estate which has to be filled.  Doctor Who (ironically) has less time for it.

The love story between the two archaeologists felt stronger because of this, so compelling in fact that I didn't notice the episode didn't have a title sequence until ten minutes in.  Having such a long opening introductory scene is a very classic Who approach and a very welcome change from the latter end of the Moffat era when secondary characters tended to be an after thought.  It's a real credit to Chibbers that he manages to keep their story relevant throughout the hour even after the number of companion like characters who need servicing has doubled.  I'll admit that part of me wishes they'd left in the TARDIS instead.

This was by far the strongest Sheffield set episode of the series and just behind It Takes You Away in terms of quality.  As with most episodes, it'll be worth rewatching just for the dialogue some of which is positively iconic and if not that education.  Clock Jodie's glee in explaining how the microwave parts roast the Dalek and making the scientific jargon sound convincing.  With some of the pressure off being the flagship broadcast on Christmas Day, it seemed happier to simply be the proper season finale which The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos could never be and clearly wasn't supposed to.

Predictions 2018.



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.

Zero points.

Brexit cancelled.

Zero points.

MCU based Fantastic Four film announced.

Zero points.

The Doctor Who omnirumour is true.

Zero points.

A new Shakespeare play discovered.

Zero points.

No marks, which sums up 2018 perfectly. It's been 2016 without a sense of humour. Oh well. Um. For next year.

Trump doesn't complete the year as President.

Brexit cancelled.

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

Arriva Click expands.

I'll lose a couple of stone in weight.

A couple of repeats, an unlikely, a possible and a pledge.  See you next year.

Review 2018:
Bad Films.



Film Yesterday I ran down my top ten films of the year. In short order, here's my bottom ten:

The Snowman
The Image Book
Winchester
Kidnap
Fifty Shades Freed
Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House
Sicario: Day of the Soldado
Entebbe
Hold the Dark
Status Update


If that list looks a bit thin, it's because for a portion of the year I adhered to the rule of only watching films with a Rotten Tomatoes rating of over 70% and otherwise being pretty generous to anything which looks like it has a thought in its head, which is why I'm already feeling guilty about including Entebbe which at least tries to do something different with those dance sequences.  The Image Book has had some great review which is why I risked another Godardian shovel over the head, but I'm still convinced JLG hasn't made a good film since the 1970s.

Some of these are just boring.  Hold The DarkFifty Shades Freed (yes, really), Winchester and Mark Felt which somehow made a biopic about Deep Throat preachy and boring and looked especially poor when compared to this year's other All The President's Men homage, The Post.  A potentially expansive epic is turned into men talking grimly in brown rooms.  At a certain point it looked like it would smartly keep Woodstein off screen until it can't help itself and produces its own inferior version of the parking lot scene crucifying actor Julian Morris in the process for not being Redford.

But of all these, The Snowman was the worst.  As the director's admitted about 10-15% of the screenplay went unfilmed which meant they had to find ways of plugging the gaps in editing.  In some ways this is a fascinating watch, as we see Thelma Schoonmaker presses establishing shots into action via ADR to provide at least some connecting tissue between otherwise disjointed scene chronology.  But other oddities linger, like whether Val Kilmer actually had some dialogue originally or what the business was with the sausage in the pivotal breakfast scene.  A prime example of how even a great director, decent source material and impressive cast sometimes doesn't mean anything.

Review 2018:
Film.



Film This past year, because of my working patterns, my time has been relatively limited, certainly more limited than it usually is. So at a certain point choices had to be made about what to prioritize, how to spend my leisure time. Reading has become a rare pleasure. Music's drifted into the background and my ability to concentrate increases without it in any case. Television consumption has been reduced to a few regular shows. But the one constant, the one activity which has remained because it gives me so much pleasure, is that I continue to watch a film every night after tea (US translation: dinner).

Which explains why, when you glance at my Letterboxd diary you'll see the total of three hundred and eighty (380) films so far this year, well over one per day.  Of those, thirty-seven (37) were rewatched which means three hundred and forty-three were entire new to me.  Which is less than the average film critic but far more than is probably usual.  Was it worth it?  Yes.  But it's also meant that for the most part I won't have seen the shiny television series you're all talking about.  Sharp Objects? Yes.  The Haunting of Hill House? No.  Others have been posting their entire lists to their blogs, but its all there on Letterboxd if you want to have a look along with often overly generous star ratings.

Choosing ten films from that lot has been a trial.  Having those star ratings to work from is useful, but honestly I've seen so many great movies this year that even as I glance downwards at this list, I'm still not convinced about the choices.  Why not Black Panther or Avengers: Infinity War?  Why not Tully or Thoroughbreds or Game Night?  Dark River?  Or Leave No Trace?  I honestly can't say.  Four of these films are Netflix releases and another one is from Amazon Studios.  What does that mean?  Plus there are all the films I haven't seen, especially released theatrically later in the year which I probably won't see until Cinema Paradiso or a streaming service adds it to their collection in 2019.

In other words, take these choices with a pinch of salt in terms of them being my actual favourite films of the year.  Lady Bird should probably be here.  So should The Cloverfield Paradox (which is brilliantly daft), A Ghost Story, Wind River and Mother!  I Am Not A Witch.  Whitney.  The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.  Cam.  Lucky.  Permission.  The Happy Prince!  When I saw The Happy Prince I was convinced it would be in this end of year list and then Roma popped up and smacked me around the eyeballs.  Does The Other Side of the Wind count as a 2018 release?  In the end I decided not to hold the extended post-production process against it.  So in no particular order:

Roma
Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse
Wonderstruck
Anchor and Hope
The Other Side of the Wind
Molly’s Game
A Quiet Place
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
The Square
Annihilation

The completely ignored Anchor and Hope is a funny, poignant romance featuring Oona Chaplin and Natalia Tena as a couple living on a narrow boat trundling around London, who ask their friend (David Verdaguer) to offer up some sperm so they can gave a baby together.  But they're drawn apart by the effort and their insecurities.  Despite the city setting, director Carlos Marques-Marcet develops a bucolic atmosphere during the extended shots of the boat passing through office areas and high rise housing estates.  It's notable for featuring Chaplin's own mother Geraldine (daughter of Charlie) as her character's mum.

What'll actually end up becoming part of the canon and on film school syllabuses can't really be predicted, but Roma. The Other Side of the Wind and Annihilation all seem like probables.  Anything by Welles is a sure thing and even if this is just a best guess about his intentions, and so has a similar veracity in analytical terms as some of the apparently posthumous reconstructions in the Shakespeare Folios.  But Annihilation in particular feels like a decedent of Kubrick, Tarkovsky and Resnais in allowing the audience's imagination to infer part of the narrative as well as offering an extraordinary visual feast.

The Square is my favourite film of the year.  Over the past few years my appreciation of contemporary art has waned and Ruben Östlund's satirical fuck you has enunciated exactly why.  You will have noticed that I didn't review the Liverpool Biennial this year due to the Thumper rule and it's largely because so much of what was on display had a mediocrity which was indistinguishable from the material created for The Square in which the audience is either provided with a meaningless explanation for amateurish objects or no explanation at all, which is even worse.  The material surround the titular street furniture of the film is especially cutting.

But it's also the portrayal of the art world in general.  The lack of thought about how installation art will be interacted with by the public or as is hilariously the case, the gallery maintenance staff.  The insular nature of curatorial choice putting audience perception low on the priories list under selecting exhibition subjects because of their prestigious name over the work they've more recently produced.  The shocking realistic performance art section in which the sponsors and grandees of the gallery are confronted with something genuinely interesting but are embarrassed or take dislike to it because its so far outside their expectations.  Oh and pretentiousness.  Oh the pretentiousness.

The performances are extraordinary, especially from Claes Bang, the gallery curator with a far too high opinion of himself and A 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 trying 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 particular circle.

His Master's Voice Silenced.

Film RIP HMV, again. The entertainment chain has once again called in the receivers after it was saved in 2013 despite my own gloomy assessment.  But this feels even more existential, especially since the causes have become even more acute in the past five years.  As the BBC's RCJ notes, whereas the 2013 troubles were blamed on downloads, we now live in a streaming age.

Anecdotally, the majority of casuals stream their films legally and otherwise, usually through a pay monthly service or through a celestial rental service like Amazon Video.  Most people simply can't justify paying ten to fifteen pounds for a film they're only like to watch once or twice, so even if it isn't on Netflix, they rent a stream for roughly the same cost as something at Blockbuster.

Similarly, as I predicted a decade ago as soon as I saw began using the service, Spotify et al and download has pretty much killed the physical media market.  People in general don't use portable cd players any more.  Even when we are given a cd for Christmas, our first instinct is to rip it to mp3s assuming we even bother and don't just simply go to Spotify anyway.

On top of that, even those of us who do still want shiny discs are probably going straight to Amazon, which is cheaper than HMV especially if you take into account second hand purchases through secondary sellers, more convenient especially if you have prime and although it can't really replacing browsing in stores, HMV isn't really the back catalogue heaven it once was.

As soon as the HMV in Liverpool moved from its flagship space to a smaller shop on the balcony in Liverpool One, this seemed inevitable.  Assuming it isn't saved, there won't now be a specialist chain record shop on the high street that sells film and music.  Andy's Records, Our Price, Tower Records, Virgin Megastores, Zavvi, Head and now HMV and Fopp (probably) all gone.  RIP.

Elizabeth Wurtzel has a new father.

People You've probably read this incredible piece already but I'm linking it here for posterity. Elizabeth Wurtzel writes for New York Magazine on discovering her father is actually Bob Adelman, legendary photographer:
"Life is just a shock to the system.

"It turns out that the man I have spent 50 years believing to be my father is not my father.Donald Wurtzel, 2001.

"My mother lied to me about who my father is. My father is Bob Adelman, the photographer, who most famously caught Martin Luther King Jr.MLK delivers “I Have a Dream,” August 28, 1963. in profile having a dream on the Lincoln Memorial. You know the shot. You know many of Bob’s pictures. When they say something is iconic, they just mean everyone knows it. Bob was early for history.

Where's The Doctor? (Doctor Who Annual 2018).

Books Happy Christmas! No new Doctor Who on television today, but instead I had the pleasure of reading Paul Lang's Thirteenth Doctor comic strip, Where's The Doctor? in this year's annual, an unusual publication in that its style originates with Doctor Who Adventures, which is no longer in publication. So it's a chance to have a window on what an issue of that might look like featuring the new(ish) Doctor and her friends, especially across the strip, which was always the key aspect of the comics magazine and which surprisingly features a cameo from the Eighth Doctor, which is why I'm here.

An assassin has been hired to murder the Doctor and the first part of the strip has her chasing the Time Lord around London during the coronation not entirely sure why she keeps bumping into these blokes who read as the Doctor on her scanner but are clearly not female. In each instance she finds herself saving him from some beast he and his companions are fighting off which in Eighth's case is a giant robot (no not that one) towering over Marble Arch, just as he's about to be incinerated by some kind of flame thrower. John Ross, whose recognizable style was seen in DWA across the years, has gone for Eighth's TV Movie threads which puts this early in his adventures.

The first half of the annual is a potted history of all the incarnations (including Hurt!), perhaps for kids who're only jumping on board with Jodie's casting and Eighth is featured here too with a single page that offers a rough synopsis of Doctor Who or The Enemy Within or whatever we're calling it these days followed by an explanation of his regeneration.  Orthodox, although his designated quote (they all have them), "Four minutes?  That's ages ..." (etc) from The Night of the Doctor, is incongruously attached to a photo from the 1996 wig and waistcoat photo shoot.  There's also a "spot the difference" puzzle utilizing an image taken just before the Doctor chugs down his regeneration elixir, the existential chatter with Ohila over Cass's corpse, which is bit macabre.

The second half of the annual puts Thirteenth at the centre in the comic strip and the accompanying material has profiles of her companions, some more spot the difference type puzzles and odds and sods about some of the episodes from this season.  There's something a bit poignant about this as though Lang appreciates that there was always a place for a Doctor Who publication for younger readers, especially when the show isn't on air.  Arguably it wasn't a perfect fit for the Twelfth Doctor and it suffered due to the funk that era found itself in, but I bet if the presses roared back to work with a DWA dedicated to the Thirteenth Doctor, it would be loved.

Placement: How about between the Radio Times strips and Vampire Science?

Christmas Links #24



25 Pictures From Christmas Past That Show Just How Much The Holiday Has Changed:
"’Tis the season to journey back in time to witness the ghosts of Christmas past!"

National (US) Christmas Tree Dark Due To Government Shutdown:
"This is so not lit -- the National Park Service says the tree site near the White House will stay closed until the shutdown ends."

The gift of gaming: the joys of getting a console for Christmas:
"From secondhand Super Nintendos to surprise Sega Saturns, writers, game developers and Guardian readers share their favourite memories of gaming Christmases past."

UK troops around the world send Christmas wishes home to loved ones:
"Thousands of British Armed Forces personnel working around the world have sent Christmas messages home to their loved ones."

‘They even ask for Merry Christmas Everyone at my shows in Sri Lanka’: 10 Questions for Shakin’ Stevens:
"SHAKIN’ Stevens is touring with his Greatest Hits And More show, playing Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall on March 16th, and Glasgow’s City Halls on the 17th."

After Years In Refugee Camps, A Family Celebrates Its First Christmas In The U.S.:
"It's a familiar scene: a family gathering on a Sunday afternoon, the kids off playing somewhere in the house. But in the kitchen, conversations in Swahili fill the room."

Lennie James remembers 'dread' of first Christmas in care:
"Actor Lennie James has written and recorded his memory of the first Christmas he spent in care aged 10."

A Charlie Brown Christmas can quote the Bible but not feel like it's preaching:
"That's the secret to its enduring popularity and beloved status."

Christmas Links #23



Back to the crib: north-west England's nativities – in pictures:
"Stephen McCoy has been photographing the urban environments and landscapes of the north-west of England for 40 years."

Did the First World War Christmas truce football match really happen?
"It has become one of the most iconic moments of the First World War, and was in 2014 chosen by Sainsbury's as the subject of their huge Christmas advertising campaign."

The man who sued over a lack of Christmas cheer:
"Hundreds of thousands of people in the UK go abroad for Christmas, for sunshine or snow - but festive holidays can sometimes go wrong, as one consumer champion discovered almost half a century ago."

The definite ranking of Christmas movies on Netflix:
"The good, the bad, and the so-bad-it's-good: this is our definitive selection of Christmas films on Netflix."

A Choral Christmas from Radio 3:
"Delve into Christmas the Classical way with a sprinkle of glittery choral pieces."

A Taxonomy of Bad Christmas Music:
"From the bossy to the greedy to the horny."

Christmas Dinner on the International Space Station:
"Ever wondered what astronauts might be eating for Christmas dinner? I found out recently when I had the chance to speak with NASA's Vickie Kloeris, who manages the food system for the International Space Station."

Christmas Links #22



We Need to Move Christmas:
"The worst thing about Christmas is that it makes winter longer, and unbearably so."

Can 'Super Saturday' save Christmas?
"Retailers hoping for a last-minute rush of Christmas shoppers on "Super Saturday" may be disappointed as trade looked set to peak before the weekend."

The Secret to Being the Hero of Every Holiday Party:
"It’s a big-ass bottle of wine."

Police department donates $20,000 worth of toys to children's hospital:
"Christmas came early for patients at a Washington state children’s hospital thanks to a small town police department."

Netflix’s A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding is straight trash. But it’s cozy trash:
"No one who made the sequel to A Christmas Prince cared, and that’s the secret to its appeal."

The lies I will and won’t tell my kids this Christmas:
"Christmas in our house is a time of great joy, largely because my husband and I are freelancers, so between us we have approximately three-and-a-half days off over the festive period and, by God, we plan to enjoy them."

Christmas Lights Can Slow Wi-Fi But They Probably Won't:
"Wondering if you must choose between decking your tree out with Christmas lights or having usable Wi-Fi in your home for the holidays?"

Christmas in La-La Land:
"Holiday magic in Los Angeles comes down to the thing that always sets California apart: the quality of light."

Sorry, Santa: A Chinese City Has Just Banned All Things Christmas:
"Santa Claus is no longer welcome in a Chinese city where local authorities this year banned all things Christmas."

20 years of Christmas number ones:
"Every year, for a reason we’re still not quite sure of, a number of artists vie to top the charts over Christmastime."

Christmas Links #21



Christmas traffic: Where to avoid on the roads and rail:
"The Christmas getaway means congested roads and cancelled trains. Drivers have been warned of possible delays of nearly two hours as millions of cars take to the motorways. But where should you avoid and at what times will traffic be busiest?"

Explainer - How drones caused travel chaos at Gatwick airport:
"London Gatwick Airport reopened on Friday after a rogue drone saboteur wrought travel chaos for hundreds of thousands of Christmas travellers."

Adoption ban reminds Germans pets are not just for Christmas:
"Europe’s largest sanctuary will keep 1,400 animals over festive season so that none end up as unwanted gifts."

Christmas puppy surprise: Oklahoma parents secretly adopt dog daughter had been caring for at shelter:
"Christmas came early for one Oklahoma daughter whose father adopted the dog she was caring for at a shelter — and the moment was caught on camera."

Please sign for this delivery:
"DING DONG! Merrily on high, but also as in: the sound of a doorbell! Who's there? It's a delivery person and they are happy to deliver, leave on your doorstep or hand to a neighbour you've never met… A new Popjustice website!"

24 Amazing Pop Christmas Songs That Aren't "All I Want For Christmas Is You":
"Don't worry, Mariah still makes an appearance!"

Radio 3 Carol Competition 2018:
"And the winner is… John Merrick!"

Inside the Christmas movie mega-complex churning out festive films:
"Hollywood blockbusters cost staggering amounts to produce. But Hallmark makes Christmas movies for $2m each and it makes tens of the movies each year. These are the secrets to its success."

Stump-Grown Christmas Trees Are the Gift That Keeps on Giving:
"Using the sustainable and ancient method of coppicing, evergreen Christmas trees can be regrown indefinitely."

Millennials Strike Again: This Time We Are Killing Cash And 'Merry Christmas':
"The Grinch might as well get in line behind millennials."

Kate Middleton and Prince William Will Reportedly Only Spend Christmas with the Royals "Moving Forward":
"It has to do with the Queen and Prince Philip's "advancing ages.""

Gigantic ice-filled crater on Mars portraying idyllic wintry scene:
"An 82 kilometre-wide crater on Mars that may be topped with snow has been photographed by the ESA’s (European Space Agency) Mars Express."

Christmas Links #20



10 Must-Hear Old-School Country Christmas Albums:
"From Brenda Lee to Buck Owens, a round-up of country’s best holiday releases."

Gwyneth Paltrow Hangs Christmas Stockings In Conscious Uncoupled Style:
"The actress showed her holiday spirit in an Instagram photo promoting her business."

Here in My Heart: Al Martino and the song that would become both the UK’s first Christmas number one and its first ever chart-topper:
"AL MARTINO’S 1952 song Here in My Heart was quite the history maker when it was first released in the UK."

This woman sends over 4,000 Christmas cards to LGBTQ+ people around the world:
"I realised how it would feel if my coming out had been met with a different reaction and I had received rejection instead of acceptance."

I Spent a Year Wrestling With the Metaphysics of The Muppet Christmas Carol:
"Can Michael Caine's Scrooge see Gonzo and Rizzo?"

Bell, Book and Candle: The Best, Witchiest and Most Festive Rom-Com Ever:
"The holiday season is a time for traditions, from the people we spend it with, to the food we eat, to the films we watch."

'Pathetic' Kiev Christmas tree divides social media:
"This is the worst Christmas tree of all time."

WATCH: FlightAware is tracking the busy skies as Americans begin their Christmas travel:
"Click to unmute."

Carol singers grant dying man's last Christmas wish:
"Canadian carollers have helped grant a dying man's final Christmas wish by singing to him."

Christmas Links #19



Amazing arts treats to watch and listen to this Christmas:
"Christmas is the perfect time to indulge in guilt-free binge watching and listening. But don’t be ruled by a remote control – playlist your festive treats with our selection box of cultural delights on BBC iPlayer and BBC Sounds. Entertainment, enchantment, mystery and marvels await."

The Queen of Christmas:
"Elizabeth Chan, a full-time Christmas-song singer and composer, visits Santaland at Macy’s."

Best Christmas film: Elf, The Muppets and L**e A******y miss top spot:
"It was made in 1946 but It's A Wonderful Life has been voted Britain's most popular Christmas film."

Mistletoe: The Evolution of a Christmas Tradition:
"Why does this parasitic plant remind us of romance?"

How “Coventry Carol,” a lullaby about killing babies, became a Christmas song:
"Plot twist: During the Renaissance, it was performed in the summertime and may have been considered funny."

Christmas: 'Too old' girl uses £100 voucher to buy gifts for children's ward:
"A girl who won a £100 shopping voucher but decided she was "too old" for toys has spent it on Christmas gifts for a children's ward."

Eat Christmas Dinner To See What Country You Actually Belong In:
"Eat, drink, and be merry."

A humble weed grew in a cracked city sidewalk. Now it’s the Christmas Weed, a festive holiday destination:
"Alyssa Emrick and her family were on their way home from church on Dec. 9 when they spotted an unusually tall weed growing at a busy intersection on the west side of Toledo."

National Gallery unveils Italian painting as 'Christmas gift to the nation':
"Work by female Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi will go on ‘grand tour’, says gallery."

Multi-Story: Episode 11: Christmas:
"Festive audio treats, featuring Christmas in prison and a life-sized nativity."

Christmas Links #18



Row over Belgrade's Christmas decorations leaves city more furious than festive:
"Serbian capital’s £2.56m taxpayer-funded decoration budget met with outrage and accusations of corruption."

The mystery 'angel of Everton' who is feeding 90 struggling families this Christmas:
"A real-life secret Santa has made an anonymous donation of almost 100 luxury hampers."

Before he died, an elderly man left his 2-year-old neighbor Christmas presents for the next 14 years:
"When Owen Williams opened the door of his home in Barry, Wales, he couldn't believe his eyes."

Michigan business FloraCraft hands out $4 million in Christmas bonuses to workers:
"As General Motors and Ford prepare to cut jobs, a Michigan family-owned business, FloraCraft, is giving tens of thousands of dollars to each of its full-time employees."

How to Make Puppy Chow:
"Nothing says Christmas like gobbling this sweet snack until you can't move."

'My Christmas parcel ended up being recycled'
"Over the Christmas holiday season the number of parcels being delivered goes through the roof, causing headaches for delivery companies and frustration for customers when orders go astray. Can technology cope with the rise and rise of online shopping?"