The Love Invasion.

Comics For the first time in nearly a decade, Doctor Who Magazine's comic strip has changed shape. Writer Scott Gray's epic run of Eighth Doctor adventures came to a necessary end a few months ago with an excellent story featuring an invasion of London by the Cybermen and a regeneration-skirting finale in the flames of the time vortex. It was vintage stuff, Gray being one of the unsung heroes of the wilderness years bringing exciting, touching, gut wrenching stories month after month.

After an extended period when the strip could find its own way and develop into something entirely distinctive from the other forms in production (in sound and text) it would have to fulfill the expectations of new readers and return to pastiching whatever's happening on screen. This would have to be a recognisable Ninth Doctor and Rose, and more importantly, the rich continuity which had built up over the years would be out of the window. It had been rumoured that Russell himself would be writing the first story, but in the event, Scott Gray takes a breather and lets general franchise stallwart Gareth Roberts take the strain.

This new story began in March with the three part The Love Invasion. It's London in the swinging 60s and a group of shapely girls in pink t-shirts from something called 'Lend-A-Hand' are passing through the crowd doing random acts of kindness. The Doctor's immediately suspicious ("She didn't smell human") and is even more intrigued when they find that a luxury complex of flats is being built on the site of what should be the estate that in the future Rose calls home. So far, so Adam Adamant Lives!. But as the story progresses it becomes clear that 'Lend-A-Hand' is a front for Igrix, a Kustollon, a time travelling alien who wants to blow up the moon as part of a plan which would mean humanity doesn't reach the stars and start a war with his people.

Much like the novels, it's initially strange seeing and 'hearing' The Doctor and Rose in this new media. After the initial 'teaser' featuring a 'Lend-A-Hand' girl being apparently murdered there's the TARDIS and already The Doctor's quipping that the 60s are the only decade when his timeship is a good disguise. The first thing the reader notices is how close the ensuing banter between him and Rose is to that heard on screen. Already there is a great rationalisation as to why this TARDIS crew seem to spend most of their time on Earth around the 20th century. (Doctor: "Humans just aren't very curious people. Like you, choosing to come here. We could have gone and seen the warriors of Sun Tzu, or the Ottoman Empire, or the Oligocene era -- you'd love the first porcupines ... but nah, it was 'Let's Go Somewhere Different ...' " Rose: "I just don't wanna go too far back. Nowhere before electricity, OK? I'm always reaching for light switches that ain't there...") Importantly it passes the test of sounding like the actors something which isn't very easy to do.

Like the tv series, and cleverly for a medium in which space is a premium, there are very few featured characters. Charlotte Cobb is a scientist who designed a serum to fight against the insidious alien 'Lend-A- Hand' girls after they did away with her husband. Shirley Gilbert is effectively Rose's companion during the adventure, asking for the plot to be explained to her while she tries to grasp all the futuristic phrases which are thrown into the mix. Mr Love is Igrix's human relation on Earth. Charlotte makes the biggest impression, coming across the strongest, even if as the story progresses she becomes more of a bystander as The Doctor and Rose complete their self-engineered mission.

The artwork is very -- busy. Action fills every page and the artists have gone as far away from the rows of frames approach as you can go. On page two of part two, the top frame is almost pushed off the page by the title. There is, however, the usual issue of making the characters look like their real counterparts. One approach is to create artwork so stylised that this doesn't matter (see some issues of the Buffy comic). The other way is photo-realism, effectively copy frames from the film or tv series (see the recent 24:One Shot). Perhaps understandably this goes for something in between and ends up looking like Roy of the Rovers. Oh well. Eccleston becomes something of a caricature -- big ears, big nose, big forehead. In some frames during the opening part he looks more like Kenneth Williams. Piper's rendering is more successful, especially in the final part. The characters created specially for the strip come across better, especially Charlotte. I've often wondered were artists who have to draw humans get the image from -- is there a Littlewoods catalogue somewhere with a photo which was the inspiration for her likeness?

What's particularly surprising is how close the strip comes being the tv series. There is a Bad Wolf reference and The Doctor doesn't quite save the day all by himself. It also lets the plot resonate with the characters. There is a moment in part three similar to the scene in The Unquiet Dead were The Doctor and Rose debate the morality of allowing the Gelph to live on in the corpses of humans. Here, the alien's Igix's plan could mean that humanity would go on leaving a lovely peaceful life on Earth without war. When they have one of their 'special chats' The Doctor points out 'All the horrors I've seen in the future -- swept away. So tell me, Rose Tyler -- should I be fighting that?' Rose says that she doesn't want anyone running her life, she wants to make her own mistakes. But The Doctor has frequently been guilty of much the same meddling as Igrix, usually on other worlds.

Overall this was more enjoyable that might be expected. It's interesting to see a Ninth Doctor adventure in a format which is closer to the old series than the new with shorter parts and cliffhangers. Time and again I found myself grinning at some bit of business or dialogue, some of which is just as quotable as the tv series ("They're humans now -- with basic human instructions. Eat, sleep, fancy the wrong person, worry, cry a lot, pick fights, that sort of thing...") Most importantly for me, it doesn't feel dumbed down, and would have made a great tv episode given the money and time. Can't be better than that.

Hello and welcome to ...

A great example from Music Thing of how sometimes it's vitally important to keep your copyright. The man who composed the four notes which used to appear on Channel Four's logo (Daaa-daaa-da-daaaa) became very rich indeed. "Every time that sequence was played, David Dundas was paid £3.50. Every week, for ten years, Dundas received a cheque for £1,000 from Channel Four. "

Extract from the musical Hair.

There is a song in the musical Hair containing much of the text from one of Hamlet's soliloquies. Here are the lyrics:
"What a piece of work is man
How noble in reason
How infinite in faculties
In form and moving
How express and admirable
In action how like an angel
In apprehension how like a god
The beauty of the world
The paragon of animals

I have of late
But wherefore I know not
Lost all my mirth
This goodly frame
The earth
Seems to me a sterile promontory
This most excellent canopy
The air-- look you!
This brave o'erhanging firmament
This majestical roof
Fretted with golden fire
Why it appears no other thing to me
Than a foul and pestilent congregation
Of vapors

What a piece of work is man
How noble in reason

How dare they try to end this beauty?
How dare they try to end this beauty?

Walking in space
We find the purpose of peace
The beauty of life
You can no longer hide

Our eyes are open
Our eyes are open
Our eyes are open
Our eyes are open
Wide wide wide!"
[I'm guessing that the writer Galt MacDermot couldn't "And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?" to scan properly. It's also odd to see the thing flipped over in the middle.]

Phone Call

Theatre Blogging Hamlet, I've come to the conclusion that most of the really good theatrical productions are hinge on one or two key moments -- the iconic scenes which everyone remembers and look forward to seeing in productions just to see how they'll be done this time. In Hamlet that's 'To Be Or Not To Be....' and Yorrick. In the musical Hair it's The Age of Aquirius. Last night I saw LIPA's second year students tackle both.

On the whole, Hair doesn't have much in the way of plot. It's a bit like Cats -- a series of characters from something called 'The Tribe' turn up and do their 'bit' before shuffling off in time to become boring. Somewhere in there though a hippy gets drafted to fight in Vietnam and is killed. Done well it can be electrifying as actors address and interact with the audience and talk about being in a theatre. It's not a work about inhibitions.

This wasn't the best I've seen (that would be the American production I saw at midnight during the Edinburgh festival in '98) but pretty close. The dancing was a real highlight, bodies above and below, up and under, the tribe working in unison, almost like a swarm together always. Considering this was just a three day engagement, the rehearsal time must have been lengthy. This is an ensemble piece and so it's difficult to pick out individual performaces. But there weren't too many weak links in the singing.

But. Some of the really good songs were wierdly stripped out and there was a them and us situation between the performers and audiences which worked against what was happening on stage. It's also quite a complicated musical sound wise and the guys on the mixing board weren't quite on form, drifting amplification in and out seemingly at random during some songs rendering vital lines inaudible, not to mention some sections of the band.

I was with my friend Chris, who's more of appriciator of musicals and he wasn't happy with way some of the songs were presented. He noted that they'd used Milos Foreman's film as a template which meant the shoehorning of 60s music into a 70s style -- and I understood what he meant. Aquirius came across as more of a standard musical number than the pop song I've seen it appear as in the past, and Let The Sun Shine In became an upbeat finale, not the mourful yet hopeful anthem for a lost friend. The ending was fudged too, with an important anti-war song lost making that subplot even more neglegable.

You're really wondering now how that nude scene went. Well, despite signs on the doors to the auditorium warning about 'full frontal nudity', the song from that scene Hare Krishna played out fully clothed as the performers disappeared into the back of the set, dry ice creeping upwards as they took their clothes off, keeping their dignity ...

Strings That Tie To You

Film Has anyone else noticed that James Woods hasn't made a great film in a loooong time?

A Dream Upon Waking

Life This is my city? This is my city. Two hundred thousand people waiting for the Liverpool team bus to arrive singing 'You'll Never Walk Alone'. Even watching this at home, I felt the sounds and emotion bleed through the speakers on my tv set. I wasn't there, despite the occasion because it didn't feel right -- a life long football agnostic (and partial Everton supporter) in the middle of that crowd. Plus the nightmare of getting home didn't seem like something I wanted to contemplate. I'm a bit of a wuss that way. I did wonder how Rogers and Hammerstein, Gerry Marsden and Eric Idle would feel if they'd been there to hear that choir singing their songs. I'm about ten minutes from the city centre, and even up here in the sky with my window open I can hear the car horns honking as they pass-by on the main road. Amazing.

Tiny ninjas minimize Shakespeare's Hamlet

That may be the great headline ever. It gets better: "Whatever it was, New York-based Tiny Ninja Theater's production of Hamlet is not your average Shakespeare play. Performed by only one man, mastermind Dov Weinstein, the play is put on with miniscule materials, all the while remaining authentic and true to the author's work. Every character is represented by a different action figure, usually but not always an inch-and-a-half-tall ninja. Fortinbras' character is a Transformer."

Peer Pressure

Elsewhere The greatest headline about Hamlet ever: "Tiny ninjas minimize Shakespeare's Hamlet."

I Wonder

Football I don't know anything about football but the Liverpool match seemed fairly exciting (what I saw of it). To go from being 3-0 down creating tragedy in the crowd by half time to actually winning the thing in penalties is a pretty extraordinary feet. In the local news before the match we saw two fans who couldn't get a flight to Istanbul, who instead caught a plane to Bulgeria then paid £250 to get a taxi to the stadium and asked for the driver to wait. That's some kind of a commitment really. And I thought I was going out of my way when I went to Manchester to see Rick Linklater's Before Sunset ...


Elsewhere I've just posted an answer to an age old Star Wars question to HeardSaid.

One with the force

Here is a scene from the shooting script of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith which explains the one thing many fans had been dying to know. Why do some Jedi's burn up whilst others just fade away?

On the isolated asteroid of Polis Massa, YODA meditates.

YODA: Failed to stop the Sith Lord, I have. Still much to learn, there is ...

QUI -GON: (V.O.) Patience. You will have time. I did not. When I became one with the Force I made a great discovery. With my training, you will be able to merge with the Force at will. Your physical self will fade away, but you will still retain your consciousness. You will become more powerful than any Sith.

YODA: Eternal consciousness.

QUI-GON: (V.O.) The ability to defy oblivion can be achieved, but only for oneself. It was accomplished by a Shaman of the Whills. It is a state acquired through compassion, not greed.

YODA: . . . to become one with the Force, and influence still have . . . A power greater than all, it is.

QUI-GON: (V.O.) You will learn to let go of everything. No attachment, no thought of self. No physical self.

YODA: A great Jedi Master, you have become, Qui-Gon Jinn. Your apprentice I gratefully become.

YODA thinks about this for a minute, then BAIL ORGANA enters the room and breaks his meditation.
Considering the big long list of things which aren't explained it's odd that this couldn't be worked in somehow. Then again, check out of that exposition... [via Amygdala via Sore Eyes]


Film I've had a few days to cogitate on this, the cynicism is settling in nicely I think I've decided what's been niggling me about Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. It's the dialogue. Not necessarily that some of it's impossible to like, but that there is so much of it. Obviously spoilers ahead if you haven't seen it yet by the way.

For someone who apparently holds foreign and silent film in such high esteem, Lucas doesn't seem to have learnt the big lesson. Only tell the audience what they need to know and that that doesn't need to be done through exposition. This is particularly clear in the instantly notorious scene where Padme and Anakin are having a heart to heart:
PADME stands in the balcony brushing her hair. ANAKIN leans against the wall, watching her lovingly.

ANAKIN: . . . every second I was thinking of you. Protecting the endless, nameless Outer Rim settlements became a torture . . . the battles were easy, the longing became unbearable . . . I've never been so happy as I am at this moment.

PADME: Annie, I want to have our baby back home on Naboo. We could go to the lake country where no one would know . . . where we would be safe. I could go early-and fix up the baby's room. I know the perfect spot, right by the gardens.

ANAKIN: You are so beautiful!

PADME: It's only because I'm so in love . . .

ANAKIN: No, it's because I'm so in love with you.

PADME: So love has blinded you?

ANAKIN: Well, that's not exactly what I meant . . .

PADME: But it's probably true!
I don't think there is an actor on earth who could make that work. But it's there because Lucas doesn't trust his actors. There isn't anything here which couldn't be said with a look and the minimum of words. I'm no writer but here is my idea...
PADME sits on the edge of the balcony. She's holding an electronic book, on which there is a photograph of room of a house. In the corner, a title reads 'Naboo'. She pushes a button and the scene changes to become a nursery. Now we see that ANAKIN leans against the wall, watching her lovingly. She stands and shows the electronic book to him. He smiles. She smiles. She discards the books as he embraces her, holding her tighter than he's ever held her before.

ANAKIN: I missed you.
The same emotional information is in there. Anakin doesn't mention all the fighting, but that's elsewhere, he's effectively repeating information we already know. 'I missed you.' might be a bland line, but it's something we can all understand. There is scene after scene were a page of dialogue does the work of a few lines, slowing the action down without actually adding anything more to the characters. Watching A New Hope directly afterwards is a sobering process. They simply don't look like they were written in the same universe.

[full shooting script here]

Howard Makes It All Go Away

TV Watching poor Akhtar Khan pop up this morning, filling for everyone else in the news centre on BBC Breakfast (with the exception of Business Declan), was actually a breath of fresh air. Granted he stumbled and let one news story tumble into another (autokey nerves I expect), but he's the first person I've seen in years to pronounce Baghdad correctly. My ongoing anoyance with breakfast tv is on record so any change, however briefly is a good thing. Plus it offered the sight of the news origanisation having to report on itself which is always amusing. There are other reasons to support the strike of course .... The Guardian describes what else was happening this AM.

Some Kinds Shuffle

Music (?) The Guardian blogs the Eurovision substantially better than I could:
"It's Red Hot Paprika Pants, otherwise known as Zdob si Zdub, or the Moldovan entry. What is this? Eastern European Ska? Ethno-punk, with added grannies? There really is an old lady sitting on stage, and oh, oh, she's just got up to drum, and they're dancing, the lead singer and the old lady, and just as I was getting in to it, it's gone. 'Let's make love!', the lead singer shouts. I'm hoping that was directed at the crowd, and the enormous TV audience, rather than the old lady. I imagine it was. He looks an energetic chap."
And whilst I'm at it, the Eurovision ebay search. Lord.

Sidewalk Fight

Life Well here we are at the end of the road, or rather in my case the end of the holiday. That depressing Sunday when you know you have to go back to work on the Monday. I think I'll watch Star Wars ...

Wasn't last night's Eurovision one of the most entertaining things? I voted for the Moldovans in the end (just for being entirely surreal -- granny?) but the Norwegians nearly swayed me for sheer shock value alone. I don't think there was a particularly great song all night (unsuprisingly) just touches of blandness. Am I the only person to notice that the percussion group in the interval were called Ars Nova?