Obligatory "new" computer post.

Life Let's mark time again. For the past eight months, after my last desktop conked, I've been persevering with a laptop connected to a monitor, keyboard and mouse, which long term readers around these parts will know has happened before. At least a years worth of the RTD era of Doctor Who was tapped into a old school Compaq netbook with an Atom processor running XP, not to mention much of one of the annual reviews.

Anyway, that trusty Fujitsu was becoming increasingly slow and even a slight memory boost, double the 4gb, was only a temporary fix.  Computers just get old and this was taking three or four minutes to start up and keeling over with more than five or six tabs open on Chrome.  Spotify was slow enough to be unusable to the point that I unsubscribed and moved over the Amazon Music (not that I'm in a hurry to switch back).  Time and tide.

This is now being typed into a HP Elite 8300 SFF Quad Core i5-3470 3.20GHz with 8GB of memory and a 256 GB solid state hard drive (my primary storage is a connected external disc).  Despite being (a) refurbished and (b) being originally manufactured in 2012, it's the fastest machine I've ever used.  Thanks to the SSD, start up takes seconds as does shut down and apps load almost instantaneously.  Web pages appear super fast.

There's nothing more to it than that, there isn't some amazing story here, other than that buying refurbished hasn't so far been the disaster that some sites suggested it might be.  The label on the top says Windows 7 but it's running Windows 10, but other than that it feels brand new.  About the only upgrade I'm considering is an extra graphics card but frankly since I don't play new games, I can't yet see what the benefits would be.  Chuckie Egg plays perfectly fine.

Rise of the Lichens.

Life  Turns out for forty-three years I've been carrying a genetic disorder. In about March I noticed a white mark running down the middle of my tongue and that food tasted weird. A pharmacist thought it might have been just that I'd scalded my tongue, but after seeing the dentist for my regular check-up I was referred up the dental hospital.

The appointment was yesterday. After ninety minutes of interrogation and prodding about in here by some dental students and their lecturer, at one point involving an actual ruler to measure the length of some of the more obvious white patches in my gum, I was told that I wasn't treatable.  I have Oral Lichen Planus, an auto-immune disorder caused by the body being at war with itself. 

Aesthetically its about as bad as it can get.  I strenuously suggest you don't look at this Google image search which is filled with cases far worse than mine.  You looked, didn't you.  Well, it's you're own fault and Nick Ross isn't going to save you this time.  It looks a bit like Oral Thrush, but whereas that can be fixed with some anti-fungal gel, this is just something you have to live with.

Apparently it could clear itself up in a couple of years.  Or never go away - some patients have had it for decades.  But it shouldn't be effecting taste, so I'm also visiting the hospital for a blood test to check for a zinc deficiency and biopsy out of an abundance of caution that it's not something more serious.  There is a cancer risk, 1% in ten years or some such.

But the general message was that this is nothing to worry about which is useful considering my other condition where that's the last thing on my mind.  The shift up 100mg seems to be working well and the side effects have subsided again.  Yesterday morning I felt nervous before the appointment, but what I like to call "proper" anxiety, the kind which subsides when you know you're going to be ok.

Basmati Brie.

Film The other day I renewed my NOWtv Sky Cinema package because (a) there was a three months for ten pounds offer which is extremely cheap (b) the whole thing will be owned by someone other than Murdoch in the next couple of months anyway and (c) it meant I could finally watch Bismati Blues, the Brie Larson starring romcom which managed to dodge both a theatrical and home release in the UK despite having an oscar winning star.

You might remember the trailer from last year.  It's the one which looked like a right up dated white saviour film in which Brie Larson seems to pop up in India to fight for the local "peasants" against an evil conglomerate surrounded by stereotypes and racist portrayals.  It was suggested by some that it had been dredged up from Larson's past, an early film made before her career properly coagulated as a cash grab from a production company which was trying to cash in on some old turkey.

Except, as this very good interview with the filmmakers from Vulture explains although you could argue about how successfully India is portrayed in the film (this Hindustan Times review is scathing) Brie participation is rather more complex.  Unlike this Variety review which suggests she began shooting before Short Term 12 put her on the map, Larson had actually completed shooting on that before she joined Basmati Blues (with shooting taking place during the gap before ST12 was released properly at cinemas).

But that's when it gets interesting.  That initial shoot was a washout: monsoon season descended destroying sets and leading to cast and crew being evacuated.  Not enough footage was shot and when what they'd manage to record had been assembled it was far from a completed film.  But they'd run out of money, despite the whole thing being bank rolled by George Soros's nephew.  Seriously, the films weird, but the production process is somehow weirder.

So they bided their time and eventually having added some SFX to what they had, they convinced the financiers to give them some more money to go in an shoot enough material to complete the footage:
"By the time reshoots began in 2015, nearly all of the crewmembers, Indian and American, returned. Larson did too, even though by this point she had already shot Room, the movie that would win her the Oscar, and there was nothing in her contract that said she had to come back. Had the actress wanted Basmati Blues to stay hidden forever, she could have easily let it. That she didn’t is perhaps proof she really did care about the movie’s message."
So yes, contrary to every review you've probably seen, Larson cared about this project enough that she returned to complete reshoots after Room (which also makes me wonder exactly which footage is from which shooting period).  Which just goes to show that with filmmaking assuming a thing does not necessarily mean its true and some film reviewers need to do more research.   No one knows anything.

But what of the film?  It's bonkers.  Going in, I had no idea it was a musical (the trailer's a bit vague on that point) so imagine my delight when Brie began singing in the opening the scene and I remained gobsmacked for the rest of the duration.  It's rubbish, of course, and the charges of racist stereotyping aren't entirely wrong headed, it does have a shout out to Gurinder Chadha at one point).

Mostly because of Larson, you do end up just going with it in the end.  Any film which drops in a Busby Berkley inspired number starring Donald Sutherland and Tyne Daley has to at least be hate watched.  It also has Scott Bakula who eventually leads a giant song and dance number, a section which I'm guess has to have been shot in 2015 while is was on a break from one of those acronym shows.

Despite what the trailer suggests, it's almost the exact opposite of a white saviour film. She's in India to destroy the welfare of the local rice farming community on behalf of a multinational conglomerate by selling them sterile seeds.  As the filmmakers themselves admit, they were naive when writing the ending (most of which is in the trailer) but it is ultimate the Indian characters who save themselves and anything she does is by way of correcting her own horrendous mistake.

Overall it's worth seeing for Brie who belts out what are pretty good old school tunes (I've been listening to the soundtrack a lot since) even if the book doesn't quite hold together.  Larson's next seen in her directorial debut, Unicorn Store, which emerges in the UK at the end of this month and then it's Captain Marvel next year.  Hopefully playing a superhero doesn't mean she's completely given up on weirdy indie projects completely.

Powell Estate 2005.

TV Almost as though it was planned that way while classic Who propels along on Twitch (they grappling with The Gunfighters right now), the BBC have uploaded the whole of Doctor Who since 2005 onto the iPlayer with an expiry of about six months. There are some gaps - none of the animated series or crossovers with other shows - but nevertheless we're now in a situation where its possible to watch both televisual epocs for free.  The show has never been this accessible before.

In the half hour before I have to go to bed, I think I'll try and choose my favourite stories from the revival period, roughly one per season, with a link back to my original review and the opening paragraph of each just to bulk this out a bit.  Yes, new readers I have reviewed every episode since the show returned and much more beside.  Yes kids, that was my review of Blink.  It made sense that night if you'd watched Doctor Who Confidential (ask your parents).

Rose:
"The downloadable screensaver from the official website which until seven o'clock tonight has been counting down until the start of the new series of Doctor Who now simply says 'The Invasion Begins...' Somehow I don't think it means the brief sound bleed of Graham Norton creeping in from BBC3 just as new companion Rose was being menaced for the first time by the Autons (who oddly weren't named this time out). It was an own goal from the BBC on what is one of the most important broadcasting nights of the year. But you know what I'm willing to forgive them."

School Reunion:
"A photograph appeared in both Radio Times and Doctor Who Magazine of The Doctor embracing Sarah Jane Smith and to meet it felt like for the first time the old and new shows were joining together, that the past and present would finally become one continuity, with new fans and viewers being given a reason to revisit those old stories. It felt right. It felt good. Then I saw tonight's episode and I still can't believe just how right, and how good, this adventure would be."

Blink:
"Sorry Mr Tennant, I don't actually have first memory of Doctor Who. Actually I generally draw a blank on whole sections of my childhood and I have a horrible feeling that like the shadows that follow Jim Carrey about during the eternal sunshine of his spotless mind every now and then whole decades are doomed to become blurry, only memorable through the application of my videos of the 'I Love...' series of the early naughties. Who knows, in about ten years time I might look back at this review and ponder exactly where it came from."

Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead:
"Blimey. Last week’s strategic announcement that the writer of this episode Stephen Moffat would be taking over the stewardship of the franchise was perfectly timed to keep the series in the public mindscape during the Eurovision stink and add to our expectations for his next story. All eyes would be on this opening episode, perhaps with some viewers not wanting to watch the dancers, acrobats and jugglers on the other side tuning in to see how good a writer this new producer is. It’s a disappointment to report then that at just the moment when the franchise had to produce one of its best stories ever we were presented with Moffat’s worst script, a cloggy, poorly written disappointing dirge that all seemed to take place in the same room, lacked mystery or excitement and frankly if any of his writing for the fifth series is this bad then there’s unlikely to be a sixth."

Planet of the Dead:
"Now that the Doctor Who Forum becomes a members only club after a ‘major event’ like the broadcasting of a new episode, I decided to search Twitter to find out what other people thought of Planet of the Dead. Unsurprisingly, even though a percentage of twittererers are the 'not we' or 'casuals', the comments are much the same a mix of ‘it was the shits’ and ‘it was shit’ along with people wanting to communicate the fact they recorded it/forgot it was on and that Russell T Davies is rubbish/God that David Tennant should/shouldn’t be going and that Michelle Ryan is well fit/too posh (I’m paraphrasing). In fact the only different I can see between Twitter and the discussion board formerly known as Outpost Gallifrey is that people tend to use their own faces as their avatars rather than a shot of Beacon Alpha Four and no one’s asked in which year it was set and the UNIT Dating implications."

The Eleventh Hour:
"When Steven Moffat’s stewardship of Doctor Who began in earnest there was a moment when he had to sit down and ask David Tennant if he wanted to continue. There was a moment, just a moment mind you, when Tennant’s mind must have raced with the possibilities. Another year. Just one more year. Maybe two. "

The Doctor's Wife:
"We’ve always suspected it and now Neil Gaiman has provided a confirmation. Over the years, over its forty-seven years, Doctor Who has invented itself and reinvented itself, its premise, bolting on new mythology, discarded other pieces that have stopped working, just like the characters of Auntie and Uncle in The Doctor’s Wife in fact, and more often than not it’s changed our perception of the stories which have gone before. It’s impossible to watch the sixties episode now without thinking of the Doctor as a Time Lord, the Meddling Monk too, even though the word wasn’t even uttered for six years. Similarly ever since the TV movie we’ve all had that nagging doubt about his parentage."

Hide:
"Who in the what now with that pronunciation of Metebelis III? Really Matt Smith? Really? Though to be fair it’s not necessarily his fault. With his Troughton fixation he’s probably not seen The Green Death or Planet of the Spiders but no one else on the production has an excuse, especially the usually meticulous Steven Moffat who must have sat through the episode a couple of times before broadcast. Given that this was the first episode recorded of a very long shooting schedule, how could there not have been a moment during the ADR session when Matt was asked to pronounce it properly. Or is this Steven’s attempt at creating a new potato/patato or more accurately Uranus/Uranus for the Whoniverse?"

The Day of the Doctor:
"Right then here we are. It’s the evening after the night before, Adele’s on, and I really don’t want to be here, which I appreciate isn’t the best way to start any review, but when it’s a review you really don’t want to write, it’s probably perfect. You know when … I mean when … well … there we are. See, can’t even get my words out. But yes, if ever there was a time when I didn’t want to be sitting at a keyboard tapping away it would be now. There are certain moments in a fans life when they’re facing up to the fact that having made a promise earlier in their life, they want to do everything in their power to break it. So when I promised myself of all people that I’d review my way through all broadcast nuWho (and it’s spin offs), you know as a bit of a challenged, I’d be faced with something as patently unreviewable as The Day of the Doctor."

Robot of Sherwood:
"Just over ten years ago, your writer, not longer after watching the director’s cut of A Californian Archer in the Sheriff's Court decided to visit Nottingham and “do the Robin Hood” thing. Even on the six hour train journey down, or down and across, a bit, he didn’t have much of an idea of what to expect other than to see perhaps the castle. Thanks to the sheer longevity of this blog you can read about the whole thing here (I’ve now been writing this for a third of my life) including the visit to said castle where, after some haggling over guide books and what was their lack of interest in selling me one, the clerk behind the counter informed me that Robin Hood didn’t exist. "

Heaven Sent:
"He’s not is he? Is he? Since 1996, many is the spin-off story written to account for the Eighth Doctor’s “joke” about being half-human on his mother’s side and here we are in 2015 on the cusp of a massive episode about the Doctor returning to his home planet and having revealed that it’s not in fact the Daleks with which a Time Lord has been hybridised but some other warrior race and since it is apparently the Doctor who is the hybrid, well there can be only one answer to that conundrum."

The Empress of Mars:
"Good evening ladies and other genders, I give you my favourite episode of the series so far. No purportedly clever opening paragraph here, no wandering off into some personal blogging cul-de-sac in an attempt to put off the inevitable shrugs and sighs, The Empress of Mars is a winner, baby, and that's the truth (that's the truth). Woo-hoo. If this is Mark Gatiss's last episode for the television series (not that there's any indication of that), it's a pretty good summation of his favourite tropes and ideas, a televisual Last of the Gaderine so authentically Who that it demonstrates once again that for all Steven Moffat's reliance on showrunners nervously turning out a first Who script which in the end feels like the work of someone who only thinks they know the franchise, it's no replacement for someone who has it running through their creative veins and written more stories about the Doctor than anyone else this series."

You May Leave.



About Another month, so another new blog banner. Make way for ...

June Thorburn

... a character actress who worked mainly in the 1940s and 1950s, but whose life was tragically cut short in a plane crash in the 1960s [wikipedia].

London 1965.

TV Back in the Wilderness years when I became a Doctor Who fan, the ability to access old episodes fell between sell-thru VHSes when I could afford them, loans from friends and the off-air recordings from UK Gold my Auntie was good enough to capture. My first purchase was The Keeper of Traken at the exhibition in the Dapol factory in Llangollen. Although I managed to snag and watch a fair amount of the television series, it wasn't until the dvd releases that I really began to collect them. Even then it took until 2013 when I watched the whole of the series in one go, did the pilgrimage, that I finally saw Terror of the Zygons and listened to a number of the missing episodes for the first time.

Imagine my surprise and curiosity that right now, as I type, the gaming website Twitch is streaming almost the whole of Doctor Who in a marathon series of broadcasts for the next few months, barring orphan episodes and curiously the Dalek stories from the 1980s.  As I type, The Dalek Invasion of Earth is playing at the moment, Susan and David diffusing a bomb.  I didn't see television's Dalek Invasion of Earth until the DVD release (although the film version was well known to me) yet here it is streaming for anyone who's interested and even on a television if you have the wherewithal to cast the stream to a Chromecast or what have you.  If this had been available when I was first becoming a fan, I expect I'd be watching all night.

But for us old schoolers (I've been at this since the 1990s so I can't deny it any more), the real curiosity is the chat stream which runs up the side of the browser window which allows the up to eleven thousand viewers to comment on what they're watching, and its here we can see young fans, perhaps whose only exposure is the revival seeing these Hartnell stories for the first time.  Now I don't really understand live tweeting a drama when it's the first time you've seen it, but you know kids but what's here is fascinating as they notice most of the things which have been in-jokes for years or ask questions about who everyone is and best of all, create new memes which would never have occurred to us before.

Example: between episodes, Twitch are running a trailer for the particular era being shown and at the moment that includes a clip from The Chase of the school teachers  finally making their way home and Ian's exclamation, "Its London 1965!" and ever since the chat box has been filled with commenters repeating the phrase or versions of it.  But the love for Ian and Babs has been charming.  Even before The Daleks/The Mutants/The Dead Planet or whatever had completed broadcast, they'd already begun 'shipping them.  They really love Barbara.  They'll be crushed when she's gone some time in the next couple of days given the relentless nature of these broadcasts.  But it does suck you in.  Despite having a mountain of Big Finish to catch up on, and everything else, I'm really tempted to watch all of this again.

Watching these comments is addictive and it's a draw just to see what they make of the various reveals and cliffhangers (assuming someone doesn't come in and spoil everything).  The Rescue's playing later and I'm half tempted to stay up just to see what they make of Koquillian.  How many will have been indoctrinated enough so that when Sixy strangles Peri it'll be treated with the correct level of revulsion?  Or will they, like much of the contemporary tv audience become bored by then and moved on to something else with just a hardcore couple of thousand still tuning in? Oh sorry, Ian's just encountered a slither which has led to this comment: "Brain it with a rock like the Doc did the cavemen, Ian!"  Lest we forget that Hartnell's Doctor was a dodgy old soul at the beginning.

The nature of fandom has regenerated.  The recent idiotic criticism of the changes in Doctor Who Magazine to skew their coverage towards the new crop of fans with cosplay tips and a younger Time Team ignores the fact that this is a family show and more than that, if it spends its time trying to cater for older fans rather than embracing inclusivity, it'll kill the thing stone dead, just as it did in the mid-80s.  We might not quite understand what's happening in that chat box, what the thing is with the avatar faces or the capital Fs or why London 1965 has become such a popular thing to repeat but that's ok.  We have the eyepatch joke, the toilet in Tooting Beck, the lightbulb, "No, no, not the mind probe" and whatever the illustrators were snorting during the production of the 1977 annual.

Of course, a dozen thousand people watching a live stream won't necessarily have a huge cultural impact but it will surely make memories.  Instead of "Do you remember sitting around in that tent at Longleat watching a tenth generation copy of The Horns of Nimon", it'll be, "Remember when Twitch streamed all those Doctor Who stories for free"?  The fact that these fifty year old shows are attracting an audience is nothing short of miraculous and apart from anything else, it's giving these young viewers an education in the history of television.  Perhaps some of them will move on to finding out how the episodes were made and which will spur them to go into working in television themselves.  What Twitch is doing right now is a precious gift and we should all be grateful.

Red Dress in a Solo Class.

Life Once again in Asda last week picking up the medicine for my overactive bladder (my water sample was clear so it's not an infection), I had my ear pointed towards the ceiling attempting to work out if its the Mutya or Amelle version of Red Dress playing on the supermarket radio station. Every occasion I have a different answer never quite able to pin it down. Mutya's vocal is clearly superior but Amelle's not really being herself on that track - she's attempting to recreate the vocal and fit in with what's already been recorded so the whole thing doesn't go completely off the rails. The fact that I can't tell the difference probably says a lot about the success of the enterprise.

Item!  Oddly pleased to see that Class is being revived by Big Finish.  The show had potential, it's the writing which went off the rails as the show continued.  Plus it was a concept designed for the longer US style season but trying to squeeze itself into eighth episodes so didn't have the time to establish its characters or their relationships properly.  There hasn't been announcement on the Big Finish website but Nick Briggs has been retweeting tweets referencing it and there's this:



Really great list of writers, especially Jenny Colgan, though it's notable Patrick Ness isn't mentioned in the article. One slight element of concern is that for all the injection of proper Who, this is set "during the televised run" which suggests it won't deal with the cliffhanger so it's not really a second series, but more of the first series. Huh.

Item!  For some reason I'm in no rush to see Solo which seems to have been the audience's approach in general with the disappointing box office (which as ever would be gangbusters anyway for most releases, but Star Wars is Star Wars).  It's really difficult see why you would want to learn about the early life of a character when you know their future is filled with such tragedy and horror and you're going to spend the whole film mentally compensating for them being played by a different actor.  NuTrek made recasting the leads part of the story's DNA, whereas Solo is saddled with having to be a direct prequel.  But I will go, eventually, probably next week.  Along with Deadpool 2 finally.  Hopefully.

Item!  Last Wednesday brought my increase to 100mg of anxiety medicine and I don't feel much different although given that one of the side effects can be short term memory loss, perhaps I just haven't remember what it was like before the transition.  Actually, my heart doesn't feel like its beating as rapidly as before and I haven't been nodding off in front of the television as much as before so I suppose that's good.  Plus I'm able to sit and write this so that has to be step in the right direction even if my creativity in general is at an all time low.  Speak soon.

"Today was about as much fun as a sandpaper dildo."

Film I'll let this Twitter thread tell the story:



How disappointing.  Not as disappointing as it must have been for the lady audience member carrying a large box of popcorn and a bottle of apple Tango who muttered as we were leaving, "I booked a day off for this".

There's a strange emptiness which comes from being excited to do a thing, planning your day around it and then the thing not happening. 

I came home and watched the British psychothriller The Ones Below, which is fine even if the ending needed someone with a keen eye to point out that the surprising twist really isn't and edit accordingly.

It's not Picturehouse at FACT's fault and they're now struggling with a screen down and having to reschedule all kinds of screenings in order to acomodate the Deadpool 2 crowd:


Lots of people will be entering the cinema today who may not know about the fault expecting to see one of these films.  Hopefully they'll be understanding and treat the staff well.

Some things to think about.

Life With the prospect of May disappearing without posting anything here, I decided that it was time for me to post something here. Find below a weekend update.

Item! Last Monday was my monthly visit to London, my third to the National Gallery and I've almost completed the Sainsbury Wing, or at least been to all the rooms in the Sainsbury Wing even if the rehang of the paintings renders the whole idea of being a completist meaningless. One major discovery. After many years not at all being that impressed with Titian, after having stood nose to canvas with his work I now absolutely understand why he's considered a genius. Smartly, the NG hangs his paintings largely chronological order so even across the ten or so works on display the visitor is able to see how innovative he was and how in his long life in the 1500s, he somehow managed to encompass techniques used in the Victorian era and the following century but four hundred years earlier. His Portrait of a Young Man, taking into account the fashions, could easily have emerged in the 1880s. An Allegory of Prudence is a solid piece of surrealism. The Death of Actaeon has a landscape which wouldn't look out of place in a Constable sketch.  The Virgin suckling the Infant Christ glances towards Turner and the Impressionists in that the form only really makes sense the farthest away someone is standing.

Item!  After a couple of years eating my London dinners at Pizza Express, I've migrated to Leon, a fast food chain which only really has outlets in the capital apart from a couple in Manchester.  As Grace Dent noted yesterday in her Guardian column, "Yes, they look atrocious. Yes, they are wonderful."  Most of the menu consists of boxes which include a pile of thinly cut cabbage, some brown rice and then a thing, like Mediterranean meatballs or Thai Chicken Curry.  The result is gorgeous and even with my current mouth (see below), full of flavour.  Plus there's an outlet in Euston Station which saves me having to walk around looking for somewhere to eat on my London days.  I can have a more productive walk then have something before I get the train home.

Item!  This is my last London visit for a couple of months.  The £17 single tickets haven't appeared on The Train Line for June and July but with Lime Street Station closing through both of those months, it's probably for the best.  I'll just book for three weeks in August instead if they're available.  I've thought about walking the route of the boat race along the Thames - the only problem is deciding which side of the river to choose.  Any suggestions?

Item!  A health update.  My anxiety disorder continues.  After visiting the GP the other week, we agreed to up my dose of sertraline to a hundred mg, and at the moment I'm upramping at 75mg.  Already I'm feeling the effects.  I'm actually writing this for a start, although I know there'll be a point when my artificial pleasantness will become monotonous.  Meanwhile, we think I've somehow developed oral thrush which necessitates putting a sweet tasting substance which looks like wallpaper paste on my tongue after every meal.  Essentially my tongue isn't tasting food properly if at all, or just some morsels more than others.  Oh and I have an bladder disorder necessitating another daily pill for a month and trying to train myself not to feel like I want to go all the time through "holding on" for want of a better description, try to slowly reduce the number of visits to the WC.  The GP gave me an eight page document about what to do about this.  One in six people suffer from it.  Eyeroll.

Item!  Work necessitating waiting until yesterday evening to watch the Royal Wedding.  My reaction was much as you'd expect.  For all my suspicion of monotheistic religion, the address by Bishop Curry of the US Episcopal Church was a remarkable piece of oratory both for its incongruity within that setting, mentioning subjects and quoting from figures that you might not expect.  This was a celebration of what Meghan Markle is adding to the Royal family, its history and future.  As I've said before, that's why I love the Royals - Cromwell accepted - they've been one of the few constants in British life and a way of tracking the history of not just them but ourselves.  The BBC's coverage was ok, although I miss some of the poetry of recent years with, surprisingly, Richard Bacon, the only voice to really capture the moment with a sense of gravitas as he reflect on the reaction in Meghan's home town.  This guy.  Crikey.

Item!  Finally, after thought about setting up a Patreon but realising that power comes with responsibility, I decided to put together this Amazon wishlist filled with TARGET novelisations which I'm now collecting with a view to reading my way through the lot in order (to give me something to blog about obviously).  If you're kind enough to buy me one, I'll be happy to write a blog post on a subject of your choosing (if that's any kind of inducement!).  Take care.

"I like to remember things like that."

Film Gen of Deek has a really good interview with Thanos/Cable/Dubya/Goonies actor Josh Brolin. It covers failure and how to fight to stay grounded when your life is a wonderland. He's immensely self aware:
"Going back to that beginner's mind again, if there’s more people when you leave your hotel sitting there wanting your autograph, it’s really good to me to know that there are fans out there for sure, and then there are people out there who make money off autographs. I like to remember things like that. That they may not care about you or your performance, they care about how much money they can get for your signature. That’s always a nice reality check."
Brolin is the perfect example of a journeyman character actor who suddenly finds himself in two of the biggest films of the Summer back to back.

Here's why you should buy the 3D version of Infinity War even if you don't like 3D.



Film Find above the trailer for Avengers: Infinity War but showing the comparison between the regular and IMAX presentations. Turns out, A:IW was shot entirely in digital IMAX so the film I saw yesterday was cropped across the top and bottom, which will account for why, just sometimes, the shots were incredibly busy.

IMAX's YouTube channel has a dozen or so videos celebrating the fact and you might also notice that it's not the first to include IMAX scenes. Most of the recent installments have mixed the two aspect ratios so that IMAX visitors have a slightly more epic experience.

What's less known is that those IMAX versions are available for the home on the 3D releases.  Although the standard 2D releases have the regular versions with cropping were necessary, the 3D disc always contains the IMAX version with the shifting between regular and IMAX shots.  Doctor Strange has about three different ratios.

The list seems to be:

Guardians of the Galaxy
Captain America: Civil War
Doctor Strange
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Thor: Ragnarok
Black Panther

Of course, you do need to have a 3D blu-ray player and 3D television to see any of this and they're both being phased out.  But you don't have to watch it in 3D.  On my television at least you can turn off the 3D and watch the film without and although you obviously don't get the scale, you can at least see all of the available visual information.

My guess is the 3D release of A:IW will also contain the IMAX version with the full image - unless they decide that's also going to be the 2D version as well if you want to see the whole film, that's the version you're going to have to purchase.

We Need To Talk About Thanos.



Film It's been a while since the last "We Need To Talk About [insert MARVEL related character who has nothing to do with the Lynne Ramsey film] but with the MCU equivalent of The Three Doctors having had the biggest opening weekend of all time and actually visited a cinema myself to see the thing and had some thoughts, here we are: some commentary on Avengers: Infinity War to add to the digital fatberg already clogging up the atlantic's transcommunication cable.

None of the following is original.  But after knocking out that bland review of a Ken Burns documentary yesterday, I'm in the mood to write again which hasn't been the case for the past few weeks.  A whole visit to London and other business have passed and all I've really wanted to do was double bill some films and catch up on a mountain of television.  But if nothing else, the first half of the MCU's two part series finale has made me want to sit in front of a keyboard, so thanks Kevin Feige et al.

The following will of course include many spoilers, so do not under any circumstances read any further if you haven't seen the film - which is essentially unreviewable so this isn't going to be that.  I've already tried watching a couple of the kinds of YouTube reviewers who utilise their dvd collection as the backdrop pointlessly offering a spoiler-free review as though their core audience isn't going to be going to see the film anyway.  Just warn up front then say what you like.  It's OK.

(1)  The film is unreviewable

Reviews of the film for general audiences have been amazingly bobbins in places.  I'm not going to single out any in particular, you've seen them, but the gist is that A:IW doesn't work as a stand alone film because none of the main characters are properly introduced and nothing is explained which means that the emotional beats have no resonance and there aren't any stakes.  Oh and that's half a story which makes it insubstantial.

Let's all say this in unison (!).  It's an installment in probably the biggest film franchise of all time, in which anyone going to the cinema to see it will have enjoyed its antecedents a couple if not a dozen times.  Seeing A:IW as your first MARVEL film is like sitting down for the finale of a television season and hoping that everything which has happened that season will be explained to you.  If this kind of film isn't your sort of thing, this isn't going to change your mind.  It's not supposed to.

It's refreshing to have a film like this which doesn't pander.  Pandering is why we've had to watch Batman's parents killed or the destruction of Krypton over and over again.  If you can't appreciate that the film is ignoring character exposition on purpose rather than through omission, I don't know what you're expecting.  But I also honestly don't understand why someone couldn't enjoy this on some level, unless they're determined not to even before they enter the cinema.

(2)  Structure

The big question beforehand was how the Russo brothers would be able to balance the various elements, all of those characters and contain them within this running time.  Captain America: Civil War demonstrated their nimbleness in achieving that balance whilst simultaneously delivering something which is a valid finale to Cap's trilogy and sewing up some hanging questions from the Iron Man series so I wasn't that concerned.  But how would they achieve the balance between the mix of tones?

The clever solution is to make Thanos an antagonistic protagonist.  Without the necessary close reading (remind me with the blu-ray is released) my guess is that all of the key turning points in the story happen at various stages in Thanos's quest, probably in finding each of the different stones and that in those terms, since Thanos achieves his goal, the film's plot technically resolves itself.  Half the population of the universe disappears, a notion he views as heroic, and he's able to retire just as he wished having made some necessary sacrifices.

The mix of tones works surprisingly well.  I saw one review which suggested that some of heroes act "out of character" because they've been brought in from the work of other creatives but I didn't detect that at all.  James Gunn is particularly listed as an executive producer and apparently he did write all of the Guardian's dialogue.  Due to the familial connection this does function as part of the wider Guardians story more than any of the other characters.

But my understanding is all of the other key creatives were consulted too, probably because they'd have to deal with the fallout in their own films.  The Wakanda scenes are very much within Ryan Cooglar's vision and however much of a downer the climax of Ragnarok is now, this Thor has his DNA in Taika Waititi's effort rather than anything which happened in the earlier films.  The rest of the heroes have already had multiple creatives but the Russos still acknowledge their debt to how Joss Whedon conceived some of the characters, especially Banner.

(3)  Unfortunate Events

Due to his non-appearance in the publicity my assumption was that Hawkeye would buy it in the opening scene.  Little did I expect they'd actually murder one of the franchise's most popular assets despite it being the classic move when you want to show how high the stakes are.  That said, god bless Hiddleston for showing up for all of the publicity as though Loki was going to have a major role in the film rather than a cameo.

My feelings about Gamora are a bit more complex.  Despite the blood splatter, like everyone who's dusted at the climax, I don't believe she'll stay dead.  Damseling and fridging her as a way of utilising some of Quill's toxic masculinity to kibosh the otherwise excellent plan to beat Thanos feels discordant within everything else the franchise has been doing over the years.  Such things have mostly been avoided.  If it happens here, it has to be for a reason.

Plus I can't imagine what Guardians 3 looks like without her - again it isn't typical for anything that happens in an Avengers film, like killing a major character, to have much of an effect on one of the satellite trilogies.  She will be resurrected.  Either because Quill steals the Gauntlet for himself or because reality and time become much more fluid in the sequel.  Like The Key To Time, the Infinity Gauntlet isn't just going to sit on Thanos's mantlepiece.

(4)  Effects on the wider MCU

Although some other franchises have demonstrated that global events would not necessarily have the consequences you might expect within a shared universe (Torchwood's Miracle Day) (eyeroll.gif) it's inconceivable, unless they whole thing is erased from history in the sequel, to envisage half the population of the Earth disappearing not to be reflected in the various other corners of the 'verse in some way, albeit through wry asides.

Agents of SHIELD has already said that they will be referencing Infinity War, but their time travel storyline was no doubt conceived to explain why they wouldn't be involved in the events of the film up front even if the film franchise itself doesn't seem to care either way.  E4's broadcasts are a bit behind but given that the Earth is supposed to be a rocky husk in the future anyway, it'll be interesting to see how the tv show itself manages to justify The Avengers not being involved in that.

The film doesn't turn events global until the end. Before then, barring the skirming in New York, most of the key action happens off world or behind the cloaking device in Wakanda.  The Defenders, Runaways, Cloak and Dagger, Inhumans et al wouldn't necessarily even be aware of the war being fought.  They do now and you can bet that even though I know the film/TV divide makes it impossible, I wish they'd have cameos in the sequel.

(5)  What's going to be in the sequel then?

Hawkeye, Antman and the Wasp and Captain Marvel for starters.  They were all either seen on set (both films were shot together) or mentioned as having been there and it'll be important to have some flesh blood in the sequel.  All of the original core Avengers survive at the close of business: Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Cap and Black Widow.  They're getting the band back together, oh yes.

A percentage of the film no doubt be about the consequences of this, the MCU's contribution to the "rapture" genre.  Despite having the time stone, the characters aren't wiped from chronological existence.  Everyone remembers who they were and that loss.  Perhaps we'll see Tony turn up at Aunt May's door to commiserate.  There will be tears.

What's the goal?  To retrieve the Infinity Glove so they can put right what once went wrong.  In other words, it'll be the inverse of this film with Thanos properly as the antagonist again defending his achievement.  But I'm hoping for something weirder involving multiple realities, featuring cameos that look forward to whatever new characters the MCU's considering.

BUT this would also be an excellent, if unlikely, opportunity to merge the MCU and the X-verse in a similar way to how the recent Secret Wars absorbed the the Ultimates universe into 616.  Who wouldn't want the post-credits sequence to be Deadpool being chased into the Avengers campus by Wolverine or some such.  You have to imagine Jackman would return for that.

April Showers.

About New month, new blog bar. It's ...

Aunt May

The Vietnam War.



TV Despite having joined the human race a year or two before the end of the US involvement in the war in Vietnam, my knowledge of the period and of the conflict has inevitably been through pop culture, music, film and television.  The first time I probably heard some of the key strategic locations was through the authentically non-PC Robin Williams improv that made it into Good Morning Vietnam or more significantly its soundtrack album which I listened to enough that I can still quote my way through the snatches of routines running between Martha and the Vandellas and The Searchers (which is certainly the first time I heard the "slut" word but that's by the by).  Along with the titles you might expect, it's an entirely one-sided, Westernised "education", of madness piled upon madness, of tens of thousands dying to promote ideologies and defend geography.

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's The Vietnam War doesn't disprove that point but seeks to make it in a much more even handed way, including voices "from the ground up" of witnesses to the conflict from all side, from veterans not just of the US army but the Viet Cong and the North and South Vietnamese forces.  Civilians are here too, from the streets of Hanoi and Saigon, the families of those in combat and anti-war protesters in the US.  Oh and the politicians: as Burns says gleefully in the making of documentary included on the dvd, "We have tapes!" with both Presidents Johnson and Nixon represented by phone calls and infamously by meetings in the Oval Office.  Although there have been criticisms from those more knowledgeable than me that some voices are muted or ignored, others over amplified, this certainly feels like the richest televisual exploration of the war we've seen so far.

Crucially what many of us might assume to be the start of the war, when US troops first set foot on Vietnamese soil doesn't happen until a few hours in.  The series begins methodically with the initial occupation of the country by the French and how their colonial stifling of the country's natural development (even during and after the occupation of their country by the Nazis) led to emergence of the people who would eventually cause the splitting of the country in two and the conquest for re-unification.  From there, the series follows a hard chronological pathway, pausing now and then to magnify the key moments in the conflict (from Hamburger Hill to Hanoi Jane) in both countries while grasping the whole sweep of history, with the voices of witnesses as the connecting tissue, some skirmishes even described from either side of the line both in Vietnam and Washington.

Notably, although some historians were consulted through preview screenings in relation to how facts are portrayed none of them appear on screen.  A BBC version of this documentary would probably have included a couple of Phds as talking heads but the material instead is connected together through Peter Coyote's sober reading of Geoffrey C. Ward's script.  Somehow The Vietnam War manages to have a point of view - that the conflict was a disastrous mess with heroism and horror on all sides -- without significant editorialising in the voice over.  Again that's the difference from the BBC approach; we tend to favour a presenter led format which just sometimes can be a distraction from the narrative being reviewed.

From an outsider perspective, despite the comprehensive aims of the series there do seem to be omissions.  Although there's some talk of how Vietnam's economy became reliant on the US forces for providing resources and entertainment, with the exception of a single medic who became famous for criticising the war while she was on active duty, there's nothing of the voices of those outside the combat zone, who worked in ordinance and the effort of supplying the army and the fringes, those working for the US army but didn't pick up a weapon, the Adrian Cronauers.  Largely ignored too is how pop culture reacted to the war and the effect that had on public opinion before and since.  Often we're told that the public were turning against the war with the suggestion this was purely caused by the nightly news.  The reality is always more complex than that.

But most damagingly, despite the aim to bring voices from all sides to the screen, the bias is still expositionally in favour of those from the US.  American witnesses are given extensive back story, from birthplaces and family details to why they signed up either through volunteering or conscription.  Vietnamese participants on the other hand are barely provided with an historic footprint, no sense of where they came from, what led them to fight.  There are fragments, of a family split across factional lines and having to choose whether to stay in Saigon know a sibling is about to return home as part of the invading army.  But the emotional weight overall is definitely with the programme's country of origin.

The use of archive material is exhilarating but often confusing.  The section about the massacre at Kent State University benefits from footage unseen since it was shot during the protest, the bloodbath and the aftermath and we're absolutely clear of the timeline and what we're watching.  But during Vietnam skirmishes, which mix colour and monochrome footage, we're often unsure if the material we're seeing represents the military action being described or illustrative examples of the kinds of things which happened.  The credits also include a disclaimer indicating that some of the footage may be been restaged after the fact and it's often distracting to hear the description of an event and not knowing if the images are of that same event.

None of which should draw away from what is an impressive achievement.  As with similar exercises, The World at War springs to mind, it's impossible that I can now look at the film and television about the conflict without a new perspective and an appreciation for how authentic or not those filmmakers have been in presenting the conflict.  If nothing else, it demonstrates just how narrow in subject films about Vietnam have been, focusing on the military at the expense of civilians.   Now that we live again in a time when a pointless war in East Asia feels inevitable to promote ideologies and defend geography, this is the kind of document feels very relevant even if those involved are unlikely to ever watch it.

THE VIETNAM WAR is currently airing on PBS America (Freeview 94, Freesat 155, Virgin 276 and Sky 534). A complete boxed set is also available. Review copy supplied.

The 231163 Diaries:
Tony Benn.



Politics Tony Benn was a Member of Parliament (MP) for 47 years between the 1950 and 2001 general elections and a Cabinet minister in the Labour governments of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan in the 1960s and 1970s. He published nine volumes of his diaries across the years of which Out of the Wilderness was the second.

George Alfred Brown, Baron George-Brown, PC was a British Labour politician who served as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party from 1960 to 1970 and also in several Cabinet posts, including Foreign Secretary during the Labour government of the 1960s. He was a leader of the Labour Party's trade union right wing, and an effective election campaigner [wiki]. 


He had a colourful life, of which Benn captures a small fraction and I decided to include all of the surrounding entries to cover the whole of this mini-scandal.  

Sadly, 55 Days in Peking is probably long enough that Hilary will have missed Doctor Who.  Perhaps he caught up on the repeat the following week.

Friday 22 November

Just as I was leaving home to speak in Acton the phone rang and Hilary answered it and it was one of his friends. When he rang off he said that Kennedy had been shot and I didn't believe it. But we switched on the television and there was a flash saying that he was critically ill in Dallas. I drove to Acton and heard the 7.30 bulletin, just before gong in to the meeting, which announced that Kennedy had died. It was the most stunning blow and at the beginning of the meeting we all stood in silence for a moment in tribute.

I dashed home to watch TV and hear the details. George Brown was drunk when he was interviewed but everyone else who spoke was sensitive and touched and it was a most moving evening.

Saturday 23 November

Kennedy's death blotted out all other news and we watched a film transmitted via Telstar during the night. Melissa and Joshua drew the most wonderful pictures of what they had seen and it helped to get it out of their system.

This afternoon I took Hilary and his friends to a birthday treat to see Fifty-five Days in Peking. Caroline and I went to the Shores this evening. I heard from TV producer Jeremy Isaacs what happened when George Brown was on TV last night. He was so tight that he nearly got in a fight with someone else who had also come to pay tribute to Kennedy and they almost had to be separated. He is a complete disgrace and one day it will all blow up. One almost wishes it was more obvious so that Harold would have the Party backing for removing him.

Sunday 24 November

Worked all afternoon and most of the evening. The papers are still full of Kennedy and today Lee Harvey Oswald, his alleged assassin, was shot while in police custody. The whole thing is so fishy and the shame of the Dallas police is complete.

Thursday 28 November

Looked in at the Party meeting where George Brown made a brief statement apologising for his tribute to Kennedy last week. It was acutely embarrassing and there was no comment, nor even grunts of sympathy from MPs there.

Romola is Directing.

TV Future Doctor Who Romola Garai is making her directing debut on a horror film Deadline reports:
"The Hour and Suffragette actress Romola Garai is to make her feature directorial debut on upcoming horror Outside, I can reveal. Carla Juri (Blade Runner 2049), Alec Secareanu (God’s Own Country) and Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake) will lead cast in the movie, which is scheduled to go into production this fall. AMP International is handling world sales and will introduce the project to buyers in Cannes. Deals have already closed in German speaking Europe (Ascot Elite), Latin America (Imagem) and The Middle East (Front Row)."
She's also the screenwriter. Wow.

The Day of the Doctor (TARGET Novelisation)

Books Evening. I was admittedly a bit reticent about purchasing any of the TARGET novelisations of nuWho stories despite the presence of original writers for reasons of cost and my ongoing endeavor of narrowing my focus given the limited time I have, both chronologically and in general.  Did I mention the cost?  If it's not the Eighth Doctor or some new shiny disc release, I'll usually wait and see if its heavily discounted by The Book People (as has been the case with most recent publications).  Then someone on Twitter suggested it was like reading a very good Eighth Doctor Adventure novel and then someone else confirmed something else about it and I that Amazon would be sending me a book after I'd supplied them the correct remittance and that after that there'd be a review of it.  So here we are.

Spoilers ahead.

The Day of the Doctor is very much like reading a very good Eighth Doctor novel not least because for fourteen whole pages is actually is an Eighth Doctor novel, an adaptation of minisode The Night of the Doctor in a chapter with the same title.  Finally, if you have a mind to, there's a bookend to the EDAs on the shelf with Gary Russell's novelisation of the TV movie at the other end.  Incredibly the cover designs aren't that different, at least on the front.  The Pertwee logo from the TV movie is present and correct with the book title just below it.  The spines don't match at all, but when has that ever not been the case with Who merchandise?  It doesn't even match the TARGET re-issues from 2013 which is an especially weird oversight.  Or for that matter the other new publications, the various bits of text moving up and down the edge.

What kind of EDA?  For all their reputation for being difficult, around half of the EDAs were pretty trad, not too dissimilar to past Doctor novels or the later nuWho efforts except with Eighth, or the version of Eighth who asserted himself in the novels at the centre, with or without his memories.  The Day of the Doctor isn't one of those.  Instead, Steven Moffat pays homage to the experimental literary excesses elsewhere, The Banquo Legacy, The Blue Angel and especially Interference with its mixture of unreliable narrator, epistolary passages and obfuscation.  Although it often manages to be a novelisation of the television story The Day of the Doctor, covering most of the action and dialogue, it's a much deeper experience with cameos from across the franchise and a lassez-faire attitude to both continuity and canonicity.

The overall effect is breathtaking as, like some of the older TARGETs, the story is reconfigured for other purposes.  But unlike those TARGETs, Moffat knows this doesn't exist in an experiential vacuum.  Unlike those writers in the 70s and 80s, he  knows his readership can just as easily watch a dvd or even more quickly streaming it so doesn't have the responsibility of being for being the only available source for the story so fights to provide something more, with a rare excursion into the Doctor's psyche, offering amongst other things, a peak into how it feels to have memories of the same room from three different perspectives and personalities and levels of experience.  This is the sort of internal monologue which was part and parcel of the EDAs, usually when they were trying to rationalise his nibs's selective amnesia.

But what of his nibs?  Without the need to offer anything like the surprise we all had when Paul popped up in the iPlayer stream, Moffat opens out the material and slackens the pace, taking us inside his TARDIS at the moment he picks up Cass's distress signal, his console room having returned to the gothic mansion interior with a cathedral attached familiar from the TV Movie (which is, I think, what the latter Big Finish stories assume it looks like too).  Cass is given some more backstory, a clearly explanation of why she runs away from the Doctor rather than embrace his heroism and a surname.  But most significantly his final speech is modified with a nod to the EDAs and although I won't reveal what it is, fans of any of his female companions from that period will be disappointed.  Told you there'd be spoilers.

If anything his transition from Doctor to warrior feels even more rushed on the page, although its clear he doesn't have much of a choice.  He'll either die again, having only been revived by Ohila and the sisterhood temporarily or become someone he doesn't necessarily want to be.  It's both a selfish and selfless act and although at first glance it seems unworthy of Eighth, given the events of anything from The Ancestor Cell to Neverland, it isn't completely our of character.  Of all the incarnations, the Eighth Doctor's character is strong and long enough to encompass a range of tones and hews.  He once shot a guy in the head because he couldn't think of another way of beating him, something which Moffat inadvertently seems to comment on here when he's actually making a point about something else.

A "straighter" version of the novelisation might have left The Night of the Doctor out or reduced it to a brief mention in a prologue.  But Moffat makes it an integral part of the novel and the War Doctor's back story.  There's also something about seeing the dialogue on the page which makes it feel in keeping with the Eighth in the EDAs even though on watching he's clearly based in the version in the audios.  Perhaps that's just a demonstration that in fact he really is just one man, that the same person who blew up his home planet also saved reality by plunging himself into another, who was friends with both Charley and Fitz.  If nothing else, this just makes me ache for more Eighth Doctor novels either set in previous publishing periods, the Time War or else a brand new run of stories.  I'm sure we could fit them in somewhere.

Well, after all this, as you can imagine, I have the bug.  I've started collecting the original TARGETs.  Sorting through, I already have forty eight of them, a bunch of others as audio books and the Gary Russell's novelisation of the TV movie, not that it really counts.  Having visited a few charity shops this past week, I've realised that it's going to take some work, which is fine, it'll be nice to have a new challenge.  I could, of course, simply head off into the treacherous climates of Amazon and eBay but blimey some of those are expensive, especially the hardbacks.  So, we'll see.  Either way, it's been a pleasure writing a review longer than a paragraph for a change.  But I felt like there was so much to say.  Even if I've managed to say it three or four times over.

40: Andrew Scott.



Sometimes small moments speak volumes.  Robert Icke's production starring Andrew Scott has numerous innovations, but the most potent, the most emotional is to introduce a romantic back story between Hamlet and Guildenstern.  I've always thought that the mark of a production's quality is the thought which goes into interpreting these old friendships and in this Scandi-noir interpretation, by re-appropriating a few key lines, paying close attention to some interpersonal reactions, a whole history of love and loss is developed between characters whose connection is usually shown as tenuous at best.  Here, it's almost as, if not more potent than  Hamlet's relationship with Ophelia, and it's all in the looks between Scott and Madeline Appiah.

We can see something new is happening when R & G are initially introduced.  Hamlet and Guildenstern are extremely friendly, all smiles and gleeful hugs.  But then he turns to Rosencrantz and gives him the bare minimum of a greeting, grudging at best.  Immediately we know - there's wonder flowing beneath numerous bridges here.  The body language between R & G suggests that they're in a relationship now so and we're seeing Hamlet's disproving jealousy?  But everything is still pretty ambiguous; are we simply seeing the concern of one friend to another's choice of partner or something deeper?  As the play continues, amid all the more familiar relationships, we're forever conscious of how these three characters are regarding each other, how they hold each other, what's happening between them.

It's all about betrayal.  Guildenstern finds herself caught between a current and past relationship and she knows that as soon as she tells Hamlet that they're not in Elsinore of their own volition, that they've been sent for, it'll change their friendship, their relationship forever.  And so it does.  Every interaction after that is powerfully emotional as she finds herself working against her better nature, creating a wedge between someone who was clearly the love of her life.  When she tells him in the aftermath of the Mousetrap, "My lord, you once did love me." (a line transferred from Rosencrantz) and he acidly replies "So I do still ..." we can see that there's no going back and we're now on a path which will ultimately lead to the demise of one side of the relationship.

This production is replete with such fresh yet contextually logical re-interpretations of the text.  Although there are some laughs, for the most part the humour in the production is dialed back.  Polonius's scattershot memory and buffoonery, rather than providing easy laughs for a clown, are suggested instead to be as a result of early onset dementia; in one thrilling moment when addressing Voltemand, he forgets what he's saying and sits for minutes, confusion etched across his face as though he's suddenly aware of how his mind is working against him.  Although Peter Wright does allow his Polonius some levity here and there (especially in dealing with the asides he gives during Fishmonger) we're mainly aware of him forever trying to come to terms with his new weaknesses.

Although it's not unusual for Gertrude to be presented as entirely naive as to her new husband's murder of her previous spouse, this is one of the few times when, in drinking from the cup at the end, we're seeing a mother knowingly sacrifice herself to save her son.  The duel plays out in a kind of theatre montage, to music, applying poignancy to what can seem like the cranking inevitability of tragedy.  It's a mark of Juliet Stevenson's skill that we can see this choice in just a few glances, from the glass to her son and back again.  But it's a production which manages to wring a relatively happy ending for her and everyone else, as they're seen partying in the afterlife with the Queen re-uniting with her dead husband, Claudius's, yes, betrayal having been laid bare.

It's also an occasion when Hamlet Snr is a corporeal being.  Still a "ghost", but the actor David Rintoul is entirely present in his scenes with his son, embracing and holding each other and even Gertrude in the closet scene, even though she can't see or hear him and denies his existence.  Rintoul also portrays the player king and the grave digger and you could interpret this as Hamlet seeing his father in these other beings (or simply appreciate the doubling up of casting).  Having him appear on the security cameras at the opening of the play is an interesting choice though; sure this would mean that there would be a recording of his appearance somewhere?  Unless he's not actually in the space being surveyed but simply imprinting himself on the technology.  Perhaps sometimes it is best to just go with it.

There is one curious scene which tripped up a lot of reviewers, especially Michael Billingham in his Guardian review: "I cannot fathom why Claudius should make his confession of murder not to an unseen divinity but to Hamlet standing in front of him holding a pistol. Why, if the king came clean, wouldn’t his nephew shoot him?"  It is a surprising choice, but my rationalisation, perhaps after having watched a few episodes of Legion, is that what we're seeing is not literal action.  That the supernatural element which has infested the castle has led to Hamlet and Claudius to share a delusion and that the latter isn't aware of the former's presence.  That scene isn't easy to stage, the audience always has to suspend their disbelief to some extent about how much the new King senses his step son's presence.  Icke decides to face it head on, literally.

Even after seeing forty Hamlet's it's still possible to be surprised and yet in a production which apart from the aforementioned tweaks utilises a very full text.  Fortinbras is near complete, his closing army and diplomacy illustrated from filmed news reports (along with shots of the Danish royal family at the funerals which bookend the play).  The second gravedigger's cut but "How all occasions do inform against me" is intact.  This is mainly an interpretation of the Quarto text although it shifts "To Be" earlier to before Fishmonger with Polonius wanding on at the end which means Hamlet won't be aware that he's being watched by anyone within the world of the play so his potentially voicing real thoughts rather than performatively adding a seed of doubt in the minds of those watching.

The actor impressive communicates as though he's saying on the most famous speeches in literature for the first time.  You can see a thought process behind Scott's eyes even as he's also somewhat lecturing the audience.  Every word is clear and although I saw a few people on social media on the night of broadcast questioning his gesticulating, that seemed an entirely natural result of the character wanting to emphasise his words, draw attention to what's important.  Why fold your arms or sit on your hands when you can use your whole body to tell your story?  As some of the contemporary reviews suggested, this is a career defining performance from Scott, who after Moriarty finds himself too often pigeon holed into the crazy villain mode.  He has much greater range than that.

Is his Hamlet mad?  Yes, although I think it's more complicated than that.  I think he does suffer from a mental illness but it's as we'd diagnose and treat it now.  He's feigning madness when it suits him because he's well aware of his other problems in dealing with PTSD as a result of the death of his father.  In other words there are episodes which are a result of his mental illness and what seems like manic episodes which are in fact performances.  But I'd also add that it does become harder to distinguish between them towards the end of the production  Notice how, when he's quizzing the grave digger he seems completely lucid, but then goes off the rails when faced with the Ophelia's corpse yet dials back again just before the duel when he jokes about skills or lack of them in relation to fencing.

If the passion between Hamlet and Guildenstern doesn't manage to overshadow the usual relationship with Ophelia, it's partly due to the easy chemistry between Scott and Jessica Brown Findlay.  Findlay imbues Ophelia with a thick layer of irony to the point that initially we aren't sure if she's complicit in Hamlet's "madness", an impression which is preserved deep into the nunnery scene when its hinted that her complicity may have been one sided.  It's here that we see the power of Findlay as an actress as a single tear drifts through her already sodden mascara as she realises Hamlet knows that she too has betrayed him.  She also doesn't overplay Ophelia's breakdown.  Wheeled on strapped to a chair having been institutionalised, its only in her final moments on stage that she lets her emotions run riot.

That we're able to follow all of these emotional threads is a credit to the television presentation.  When I began this project, it was on the assumption that at no point would it include the prime time transmission of a West End in theatre recording.  But here we are all these years later with BBC Two devoting three and a quarter hours on an Easter Saturday to this Almeda Theatre transfer to the Harold Pinter theatre.  The BBC has experimented with this format, with Sophocles's Antigone from the Barbican turning up in 2015 on BBC Four  and the iPlayer awash with streaming specials (the RSC production of Richard II, the Globe's Dream and a Lear from Manchester Exchange) but I think you have to look back as far as BBC Four's broadcasts of the Globe for a complete Shakespeare broadcast live from or recorded in the theatre.

Until Saturday night, recent Shakespeare has generally meant filmic productions of the plays, The Hollow Crown sequence or Russell T Davies's version of Dream (not to mention the forthcoming Lear with Sir Anthony H) or compilations like Live from the RSC.  But if nothing else, this Hamlet, produced by John Wyver, a veteran of cinema broadcasts, demonstrates that in-theatre captures can be just viable if not essential.  For all the artifice, there's something tangible, thrilling and exciting about seeing those words played in a setting where there's less scope for retakes, in which they're foregrounded and allowed to flow without an actor constantly needing to be aware of how they stand in relation to the camera especially when the production originated in the theatre to begin with.

It's thanks to tv director Rhodri Huw that we're able to absorb the emotional moment I highlighted at the top of this review.  Throughout the presentation, the director offers close-ups of the performers allowing us to notice their micro expressions and so it is that as Hamlet and Guildenstern speak, the rest of the stage almost disappears as the recorder passes between them, the pain etched across her features.  When Hamlet initially replies to Guildenstern's reminder of his previous love for her, "So I do still ..." the camera holds on Scott's face and in the ensuing moments, after cutting to a master featuring all three of them, the prince clasping Guildenstern's hand, a reconciliation seems possible, but then Hamlet decides that her entreaties are just another manipulation and we can see that hope is lost.

The March of Time.

About New month. So here we have ...

April O'Neil


[Editor's note: Yes, I know there have been numerous Aprils over the years from animated to Judith Hoag but Megan Fox is the most recent and actually one of the highlights of the newest reboots. So there.]