Eyes front

Photography Christofer C. Dierdorff's extraordinary portrait photographs, including Cage, Tutu and Windsor.

Option Lock.

Books  I've been looking forward to Option Lock. There hasn't been a novel by Justin Richards that I haven't liked and I think I'm one of the few who adores his audio Time of the Daleks. This was obviously written before he took over as general editor of the book line and the work points up his strengths; his understanding that some of the great Doctor Who stories are about the Time Lord and his companion on a thrilling yarn. His first Ninth Doctor novel, The Clockwise Men was for my money the best of that bunch and although this doesn't quite reach the heights of Vampire Science or Alien Bodies it's certainly in the top five EDAs (if I'm keeping a record of this).

Harry Potter fans take note. This is another novel that surrounds the mystery of a Philosopher's Stone. The Doctor and Sam turn up in 1998 (which was when this book was published) and stumble into a stately home filled with secrets. Something is wrong, inconsistent, but neither can put their finger on what but as events begin to unravel it transpires for the reader that what might have been a low-key ghostly mystery is actually about a plan with global implications, the Stone being the catalyst. So far the best of the novels have been set on the real Earth and this continues the tradition. It's the Yeti @ Tooting Beck syndrome probably but Jon Pertwee knew what he was talking about. I don't think I'm giving anything away by saying there is an alien threat but it's certainly the stealthiest approach seen in the series, even if the outcome is rather spectacular.

Particularly surprising are the narrative's sudden trips into Tom Clancy territory as the world is brought to the brink of massive nuclear war. The US President and his advisor sit and stand about the White House debating whether the Russians have really launched a first strike. It's as though scenes from The West Wing or Failsafe had been edited into Pyramids of Mars. To Justin's credit this doesn't jar as the characterization of the men of war and politics feels right. They know they're fallible and they're scared to death. Perhaps in places the action skirts close to James Bond territory, but not to it's detriment.

Of the other characters I really enjoyed the work of Mr Pickering who has something of the Harry Sullivan about him. He's probably the first male character I wouldn't have minded continuing with some adventures in the TARDIS. And there's also Sargent who's a real Duggan if ever I saw one. Watch out for the moment when he realizes that he's been had and The Doctor might not have his best interests at heart after all.

What's particularly gratifying is the interaction between The Doctor and Sam. I commented in my substandard Kursaal review that the only times that book genuinely coalesced was during their scenes together. They're hardly apart here and the story simply flies. For once there is real chemistry between them, a friendship which feels lived in. I'm reminded of that moment in The Parting of the Ways when Ninth comments to Rose that she'd never thought of asking to leave. Moments here have that intensity. But above all, there is the sense of fun. One scene plays out the old film cliché of a couple hitch hiking and the girl presenting her … assets … only for some unsuspecting lonely male truck driver to find himself with her partner along for the ride as well. Seen it before, but here it's still funny because it is so unexpected. My favourite moment? When The Doctor stops in the middle of the action and descibes what happened when he met Pythagoras and watched as the mathematician discovered that his work wasn't just theoretical and could effect the real world. It's quiet but has an excellent pay-off at the end of the novel.

There are some niggles. Where was UNIT whilst all this was happening, especially with all the talk of the UN. And how clever is Sam? At one point having been out in time for goodness knows how long she s suddenly able to chide The Doctor for not knowing the name of some top ranking US official, you know the kind which Jon Stewart might mention on The Daily Show when he's trying to be particularly obscure. Is this supposed to be a reference back to Alien Bodies and the nature of Sam and the question of whether she's been created as the perfect companion?

Speaking of Alien Bodies, I don't think I'd considered how much trouble that novel's caused. The books around it are obviously being written with a younger readership in mind and as Option Lock demonstrates this can lead to an enjoyable romp. The problem is it lacks the sophistication of Lawrence Miles' work, particularly in relation to the action's effects on The Doctor and Sam. This review may not be longer because there isn't much more to say. Suddenly a whole new universe was opened up and the expectation would be that next few novels would be about discovering the possibilities. Instead we've been menaced by giant wolf men and a glowing rock. I wonder if the contemporary readership were as disappointed. Perhaps Longest Day with yield more excitement in that regard and some really wild things.

Much To Do About Something

TV ShakespeaRe-Told The BBC have a listing page up for their upcoming Shakespeare season. So that's Billie Piper with wierd hair in the updated Much Ado About Nothing. But co-incidentally Mr Tennant is appearing in the same play on Radio ...

Much Ado About Nothing
November 13, 6.30pm, Radio 3
David Tennant and Samantha Spiro star as bickering lovers Beatrice and Benedick in this comedy, repeated from September 2001.


RSS Ten RSS Hacks. Particularly the first one. Because it really works. [via]


News Rory Carroll's account of being abducted in Baghdad highlights again the constant risks that some journalists take to keep us informed. It's a blessing that Rory got out alive but unfortunately this won't be the last this happens.

The pleasure of clean whips I'd wear as rubies...

Shakespeare The BBC finally have a page up listing their screenings for the upcoming Shakespeare season. There's some really excellent stuff here, and I am excited but really -- it doesn't seem as good as I remember The Bard On The Box season being ten years ago. It's just that the usual suspects are there and my favourite play, Measure For Measure is cruelly ignored again. That said there is a new radio production of Pericles which another of the underrateds and perhaps they'll sneak in other films about the schedules which don't appear here...
Update Actually, take it back. Afternoon Reading 3.30-3.45pm Radio 4. Thursday 18 November -- Measure for Measure from 'Promos and Cassandra' by George Whetstone. Read by Claire Skinner.


TV Is e.r. dead?
"But this season's initial episodes arrived as such a nonstop plod through dreariness, unlikelihood and noncommunication that it's been hard to hold out hope for recovery. "ER" no longer has a center with the departure of sole remaining original star Noah Wyle, so all the other characters simply float off into the ether of absurdity. That whole Luka-Sam "romance"? Two characters who can't voice their fears and thus alienate each other might be provocative in a literary novel or an art-house film; but in weekly serial TV, they're dead weight. What was with Goran Visnjic and Linda Cardellini crazily chasing all over the Midwest after her runaway son? And not speaking to each other while they did it? Could there be less logical goings-on for less expressive characters?"
I've had an incling for some time that e.r. isn't very good, but I've stuck with it. I think that it always needs to return to its core strength -- telling heartfelt medical related stories. Everything else is padding.

Itchy (trigger) finger

Life I have papercuts. I was in the library yesterday and flattening out some photocopies which were bound a plastic folder and somehow managed to hit a sharp edge and sliced through the pads on three of my fingers. I didn't scream or yelp, I was a real man about it, but good god they're itchy. I hadn't realised how much I used those fingers for typing, picking up things, making gestures.

Through the wars

History I'm keeping myself busy. Before going over to a friend's hall for a drink last night (my Dad would be proud - I was on the red wine) I attended this lecture about how time and other factors effects the memory that people have of war. It was given by a Professor Sandro Portelli, who has published a few books and the crux of the talk was that...
"memory is not just a mirror of what has happened, it is one of the things that happens, which merits study', continuing to say 'oral sources tell us not just what people did, but what they wanted to do, what they believed they were doing and what they now think they did.'" [from]
The item which really struck me was his description of how Germans have moved on from the wars but also how their memory of what has occured has subtely changed. The professor quoted a survey in which a group of Germans were asked who bombed them during the Second World War. The vast majority said, 'The Nazis'. They apprently couldn't conceive that the liberators would be the ones who also decimated some of their cities. Human psychology is a complicated thing.

Praise You

Music I've just spent lunchtime in the company of The Bisserov Sisters, a Bulgarian Vocal Trio. My course base, the Martin Harris Centre has a series of free lunch time concerts and I think they will be an excellent introduction to some forms of music I haven't previously heard being played live. The sister's, and by extension the Bulgarian sound seems to be a collision of the middle Eastern with something closer to Mediterranean, hints of Greek. Being held in a concert hall, I'm sure we lost some of the inimacy of the acapella songs in particular. Some of the dance pieces were interpreted by members of the audience who went to the front and joined in -- from what I could gather they had actually learnt the moves from a class the sisters had taught on a previous visit. It looked like a live version of Spike Jonze video for Fat Boy Slim's Praise You, and just as idiosyncratic.

I find you...

Links Some bits and bobs (mostly reviews) I've been meaning to post but ...

AV Club reviews So Wrong They're Right, a documentary about 8-track tape collectors

NotComing reviews Cameron Crowe's new film Elizabethtown. NotPositive. But I'm one of the few who loves Vanilla Sky so I'm keeping the faith.

Eskimo reviews Homesickness.

Dave's Long Box 'reviews' Power Girl
. Or certain aspects of her ... characterisation.

Film preview 1999/2000. Some films only just going into production. Plus 'Arthur Dent (Jim Carrey)'? Actually that might have led to a better film. Yep, still bitter. [via]


Life Apart from some residuals I'm much better, thanks. Whenever a cold or cough or flu drifts away it always leaves a positive outlook. Girls kept voluntarily smiling at me today. Is it because the frown has drifted from my forehead?

You're torchwood ...

TV Stuart checks his calender. Notices that it isn't April 1st. Returns to squinting at his screen:
"The BBC has commissioned the Doctor Who scriptwriter Russell T Davies to make an adult post-watershed spin-off of its most famous sci-fi show.

The new programme will be called Torchwood (an anagram of Doctor Who) and will follow a crack team investigating alien activities and crime in modern-day Britain.

It will feature in its starring role John Barrowman, who played Captain Jack Harkness in Doctor Who and who will play the same character in Torchwood."
So it's the Doctor Who version of either Holby City or Hollyoaks: Let Loose ... [via]

Dong dong.

Film "On a final point I think I must be alone in thinking that, after seeing this and The Killing Fields, that Sam Waterston is a terrible actor." -- From a review of The Great Gatsby (1974) at Screenselect. The writer may not be a Law & Order fan.