Placebo Effect.

Books  Did anyone watch much of the Winter Olympics?  Nope, me neither which is rather the effect the reader has during Gary Russell's Placebo Effect which uses the Intergalactic Olympic Games in 3999 as a backdrop but doesn't spend much time at the training ground or in the stadium.  It's an excellent book, which fuses the depthful characterisation of Seeing I with the kisses to the past of the first block of novels.  Again the real pleasure is in the detail, the odd conversation here, the beautifully expressive  action there.  It has that ever present state of fear which the best Doctor Who stories have, but also manages to be funny and philosophical at the same time.

If anything the book is most impressive over the first hundred odd pages because it addresses one of the ongoing issues which fans face when trying to work their way through the Doctor's biography in any kind of an order.  The timelord and Sam actually arrive on Micawber's World for the marriage of two former companions, Stacy and Ssard.  These two, a human and an ice warrior appeared in the author's comic strips for Radio Times printed just after the broadcast of the television movie.  They're good clean fun, featuring Eighth's first meeting with the Cybermen.  Sadly editorial changes at the television listings magazine meant that Russell had to curtail his planned plot arc and was finally able to give them some sort of send off here.

Cleverly, the writer works their appearance into the chronology of the novels in the gap I'd presumed to have existed after The Eight Doctors (already filled by The Dying Days which is also firmly cemented into the canon of the BBC novels for the first time here).  Sam is well aware of these sidesteps in which The Doctor could be gone for weeks, months or years and she'd not necessarily be aware.  It's the first time we've seen the companion really come to terms with the idea that 'her' Doctor has been travelling around the universe for oh ages and sometimes whilst she's supposed to be his best friend.

Looking at a standard Doctor Who chronology one of the aspects which is always ignored or left behind is the genuine logic of one companion taking their leave of the timelord and another appearing.  This is something which was treated particularly meticulously in the case of the original series, but since then in some areas of the off-television licensed stories, companions will be invented and disappear and reappear from the great narrative with little concern for logic.  The circumstances of their comings and goings become the stuff of the unknown story, the gap, a way to inject some mystery into the character after all these years.  I hope that Sam gets a good send off when the time comes and she doesn't simply leave the pages of the books on a whim.

If there is a problem with the book, it's that after spending three or four books reuniting The Doctor and Sam, they're split up again for an age when the reader really wants to see how their interaction has changed since their absense from one another.  The approach seems to be to leave Sam alone, effectively filling his shoes and dragging her own companions around and having the very debates about religious belief which you'd expect him to have, whilst he's off getting into the scrapes and misunderstandings we'd find her coping with before the jump.  It's a cute idea but as I've always said and I'll say it again, this series starts to fail when the main characters aren't together doing their thing and the novel flies very close to the wind here...


Photography flickrfriends allows you to feed an email address into flickr to see if the person has a photo account there. I found eighty-two from five hundred and fifty. Formerly called stalkr for obvious reasons. [via]

London In A Bag... In London


London In A Bag... In London
Originally uploaded by Dave Gorman.

I love Muji. Only from Muji could I buy my Dad 'London in a Bag' for Christmas. Dave Gorman's great too. Only he would take 'London in a Bag' to the actually places it represents and take pictures...


TV I spent Thursday evening at the Whitworth Hall of Manchester University in the company of a few hundred people and Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC who was speaking at the invitation the RSA. He presented his vision for the relocation of some of the BBCs 'genre' services to the North West (some news, sport, children's programming). He's a very clear speaker, with a greater passion than was portrayed during the hot resignation shuffle which happened post Hutton.

As usually happens in these situations, I fairwell stood out as the only student in my white t-shirt and jeans amongst the ties and dresses. I'd just run out of a late seminar and hadn't had time to change. There was a reception beforehand which featured some very large goblets of wine and no one I knew. Although I did manage to stand two feet away from local tv newsreader Nigel Jay whilst he bemoaned to someone that he never meets anyone he knows at these kinds of gatherings either. I almost asked why we don't see him on the screen quite so much of late but didn't. Instead (after a false start with a couple of people) I managed to randomly get onto the topic of films with a different total stranger who said that he did 'some freelance things for the BBC' but didn't want to go into any further details.

I really shouldn't drink and I really shouldn't drink wine. Some people cry under the influence of alcohol, others get violent and the lucky ones fall asleep. I talk and always end up saying the strangest of things, as the sub-editor in my brain goes on strike, which means there's nothing stopping the stuff I really shouldn't be saying from being said (it happened again last night but that's a story for another time). Secretly I think this man was a producer from the BBC's film department and I hung myself quite well as the words skidded out of my mouth describing how most film producers are rubbish because they don't leave the real creativity to the writers (this after saying I thought I'd make a good producer).

In the hall, Thompson, who had been fashionably late, treated his audience to a montage sequence of clips from recent and upcoming BBC programmes to demonstrate actually how much of the BBCs output has been created regionally. I'd love to report some great new series they've been keeping under wraps but I didn't actually notice anything which hasn't been on yet, other than some children's gameshow from Scotland which looked like Knightmare crossed with We Are The Champions. Yes, Doctor Who was shown, the trailer for Parting of the Ways which played at the end of Bad Wolf, with hundreds of Daleks filling the massive projection screen. The best reaction was for the Johnny Vegas sitcom Ideal with some bug eating in the documentary series Tribe a close second.

It came time for questions and well, I couldn't not. As the microphone passed about the room and questions about the project and how diverse Radio Four might become were asked and answered I was quite surprised when my chance came. Before each question we were asked to present our names and 'affiliations' and as I stood, clutching my microphone I found myself fishing for both.

'I'm Stuart ... Burns. I'm a student. At the university....'

What I wanted to ask, of course was.

'How many years has Doctor Who got in it?'

But instead I decided to be sober and journalistic. So what Mark got was:

'In the last couple of days there have been stories that the BBC are going to start charging users, international users ... anyone outside the ... license fee paying area ... for the use of the BBC's website. Which I can understand. But isn't it important that the BBC's content be free? Particularly as an ambassador for freedom in news gathering?'

By now I had the demeanor of one of those marxist activist types you see in grainy 70s documentaries asking about nuclear proliforation or drug legalisation.

Mark took a deep breath and said that they were considering charging for some aspects of the site -- for the same reason that they sell their work internationally bringing in £100 million which is ploughed back into programme making. He mentioned that they'd looked at advertising as well. But he pleasingly went on to say that their news sites were a different matter and should remain free for the reason I gave -- that they have a certain set of values and a charter and it would be incorrect to subvert that for commercial reasons. I sat and beamed at him.

He then went on to diversify the answer and mentioned that they would be launching an Arabic news tv station. I don't think this is news, but I was under the impression that they'd already tried this experiment before and suspicion from local broadcasters led its closure with its staff joining together to open Al-Jazerra instead to great success. Without an answer I'm pondering how the circumstances have changed in the area to make this a viable option (other than the odd regime change).

There were some areas in which Thompson seemed less clear in his knowledge and opinion. Someone from a new media organisation asked about the expansion of blogging on the website and mentioned political editor Nick Robinson's blog. Whilst he was able to compliment the BBC's audience on their knowledge of the media and their impressive ability to see that what Robinson's broadcasts on the 10 o'clock news is a package developed across the day, he seemed to be under the impression (although I could be wrong) that Nick was slightly looser with his opinons online. Nick himself has mentioned that he still needs to write within corporation guidelines.

What I might have looked for is a commitment to a blogging network across the website with individual staff members able to present their vision and whatever projects are boiling over. Obviously there are policy difficulties (not least the idea that hot projects might be copied by rival networks before they're even broadcast) but I have read reports from BBC staff members who work in less sensitive areas such as radio who have been presenting the semblance of a blog that is actually something far from spontaneous and under even greater scrutiny than a guest on a live television programme (for example) might be under.

Overall, the presentation was very positive in relation to new media and the possiblities being presented. Citizen journalism was mentioned as was a newly piloted service amongst five thousand households who have access to all of the BBC's programmes for up to five days after broadcast through a service similar to the website's listen again feature (something I wasn't aware had reached anything close to beta testing). My only concern is that the corporation doesn't get too wrapped up in delivering their content and message and lose sight of what their content and message is. For every Making Your Mind Up there's a Life on Mars or Bleak House so on reflection the balance is just right and we shouldn't be anything but positive about the future.

[Horrifyingly yet brilliantly, the RSA will be posting a podcast of the event on their website soon. They usually include the Q&A so you'll be able to hear how much of the wine had gone to my head and how little I've probably understood about what anyone was saying. I'll link to the file when it's been posted there.]


TV More on why I've been awol from here soon. But first. A few years ago I wrote an extensive article at Off The Telly about Kevin Smith's animated series, Clerks: The Animated Series. I think it played over here on Bravo on satellite or something but my source was the Region One dvd. It's shame it couldn't be seen by a wider audience. Well, I open up The Guardian's Guide section today and look what I found.

Starting Wednesday 15th March. I'm not sure which first episode was reviewed or what order they'll be appearing in -- if you read my account you'll see that things get confusing but overall that's a pretty fair review. I'd definitely recommend it to you really. It's a hoot.


Film "Ben Stiller gives best visual effects to King Kong with a very funny bit with him thinking he?s invisible in a green screen suit. And all I can think of is: Very funny, but as soon as he hands off the Oscar, he's just a guy wearing a green unitard slinking off the stage." --Josh Wolk live-blogs The Oscars for Entertainment Weekly.

Doesn't anyone have a copy of this? Anyone? Anyone? Fry? Fry? Fry?

Updated I've seen it! And much of anything else important, through YouTube (thanks Kat!). Hilarious. Although Stewart's monologue was amazing if only slightly unintentionally as the audience didn't seem to know what to make of him.


TV "At the end of round two the banker offered £12k, and Candice turned it down as if it was pocket money. Candice was not about to reveal who she really was during this show, she is a performer and this may have been her finest hour. She brought photos indicating an affluent lifestyle, and she showed no emotion throughout. At the end of round three she was offerd £21k, against 4 blues and 7 reds including £75k, £100k and £250k - in fact the only amounts greater than the banker's offer. Again, seemingly without any real thought, she reject the offer and carried on. Round four started with a blue, then the lowest blue (1p) and after the break a £1000 - leaving the top three reds amongst a board of 6 reds - stating that she believed she was due to win the 'quarter of a million', and that it was 'only a game'." -- Yes, folks, it's a Deal or No Deal blog for the UK show...


Holiday "My Mother and Father would take my brother and I to Wales, Devon or Cornwall every year. On each occasion, it rained without fail. Once, I remember my Mother, halfway up the motorway, realizing she'd left her favorite coat at home. My Father refused to go back and get it and so my Mother refused to speak to him for the following two days. Eventually, my Father gave in and bought her a very expensive coat from a Welsh boutique. It was an Afghan. My Mother wore it throughout the 70's" -- Andre rounds up his family holidays.


Words I know things have been a bit sweary around here today. I think that somewhere along the line I realised that I don't have a family audience and that use of the 'f' word in the right context is ok. That said, this may be the wrong context. As Alex says, really how are you expecting your life to go after this? Although a secondary question would be -- who's Kenna? I hope it's not this guy's nickname (that last link not safe for work -- or anywhere for that matter).


Film "Overall, Chris Columbus has done a marvellous job. Cutting songs and reworking some lyrics into dialogue works surprisingly well. For anyone as familiar with the stage show as I am, it takes a little getting used to - but I don't think it detracts from the experience. And it certainly doesn't feel like a compromising of the work - just a simple tweak for the medium." -- Keith Gow's heartwarmingly positive review of the new film version of Rent.

Not having had a chance to see the stage show this is going to be my 'in' and I'm pleased to know this is a sensitive adaptation. If the worse thing you can say about something is that the cgi breath is wrong, there must be something right.


Health One of my fillings has dropped out of a back tooth. Actually it's been going that way for a while but over the weekend the little bits of metally grit became a torrant and now I have a bit hole in the middle of that mollar. I keep stroking my tongue over it, my mouth knows that something is wrong. I keep getting bits of food stuck in it. It's not actually painful. It's just wierd that I can go all the way into it and feel the gum(?) inside. Last time I went to the dentist, probably when I had this filling put in, I was seen straight away. This time I've an appointment for next Monday. I know it has to be done, but do I need the extra trauma of having another week to think about it?


Film "If you take home that trophy -- you've probably got a good shot at fucking my wife..." -- Kevin Smith's speech at the Independent Spirit Awards as an mp3.


Music Flicking through the television channels this morning whilst I was cleaning my teeth, I happened upon the promo for the Sugababes new single Red Dress and something occured to me -- what happens when a group changes members during the single release schedule for a new album? Amelle's there on the video and habing been listening to the song on my mp3 player this week it was obvious that it sounded different, Mutya's vocals had gone and been replaced. They really sounded different, not in that original 'Where's Siobhan Doherty gone?' way but certainly enough to give the track a different texture. I wonder what a new version of Taller in More Ways would be like...

Quick google search later and here it is...

Is it worth buying a whole other version? I mean I know there's a whole new singer giving input but how different can they be? Not very, according to a reviewer at Amazon...

"One of my gripes with this album is that Amelle didn't re-record the entire album. This seems very half-assed and lazy in my opinion and doesn't warrant a 2nd purchase for those who own the original release. It's also a shame, because Amelle has a great voice and by having her re-record the entire album - it would've given me (along with many others) another reason to buy the record, as well as cement her as a Sugababe."

Just buying the newly released singles then ...


Film "Sky's coverage. Fucking hell. What a shower: intrusive, stiff, dumb, amateurish, technically inept and a drain on the excitement and glamour of the actual event it purported to be covering. Instead of, I don't know, call me a crazy maverick, showing the highlights from the Oscars, they kept cutting back to Jamie Theakston and Amanda Byram, firstly on the fringes of the red carpet elbowing for glitz, latterly standing outside the Vanity Fair party like two people outside a party which I suspect they weren't going into at any stage after the cameras stopped rolling." -- Andrew Collins on you know what I'm not watching. No Jon Stewart, no point.


Alexis Strum

I've been listening to Alexis Strum's Cocoon for a few weeks now and frankly it's one of best albums I've heard this year combining the heartfelt singer-songwriter vibe with something you can dance to. I wanted to ask her how someone gets from there to here...

What kinds of music did you listen to when you were younger?
A lot of soul records that my Dad was into - Diana Ross, Motown, as well as singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell. Then I had my indie phase, then my grunge moment! I was obsessed with Chris Cornell from Soundgarden!

Were you a Smash Hits reader?
Avidly, yes! I would memorise the lyrics to songs and collect all the free gifts!

In the spirit of their interviews, what colour is Friday?
Orange, of course.

I read in the biography on your official website that as a child you were hit on the head by a shot-put. That must have been painful.
Fuck yeah! I still haven't recovered. I still haven't recovered. I still haven't recovered.

Do you think it had any lasting effects?
(see above)

Did you come to music gradually or was there a moment of clarity when you realised that this is what you wanted to do with your life?
I think it was quite gradual. I just knew that I wanted to be creative - I toyed with writing, painting, singing, acting, until I found my true love!

I've often wondered with solo artists why they decided that the group thing isn't for them. Could you have stood being an All Saint or a Sugababe?
No! You are either a team player or not and you know in your heart what the answer to that is.

It's an amazing album. Are you pleased with it?
Totally - its my favourite album of 2006! hahaha

Again, reading the biog it sounds as though it's been a difficult road for you. It must be sweet to have a shiny disc finally in the shops which people can buy.
Oh my lord it has been so hard but I think anything that challenges you is worth it - men, careers etc!

The album manages to work the fineline between sounding intensely personal but still being emotionally accessible. Why was that important?
Because I don't want Joe Bloggs to go into Asda and buy the album and not be able to relate to what I'm singing about - what would be the point of that? I don't need to write cleverclogs lyrics to be accepted.

I'm on a film course at university at the moment so I couldn't not ask you what some of your favourite movies are ...
The Fifth Element is my fave film, alongside The Usual Suspects, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Picnic at Hanging Rock

And finally, if you could choose one word to describe how your life is going at the moment, what would it be?

Thanks Alexis.

Cocoon is released on the 27 March. Alexis Strum's weblog is at PopJustice and her official website is here.


Work "Today was my second day at my new job. I quit." -- Modi

This isn't an isolated incident. A couple of times I've taken jobs (both temping and not) in which the information given during the interview doesn't quite match what happened in the first few days. I once took a job at a well known music retailer were the boss advised that I'd be working on the counter from day one and I was stuck in the tiny stockroom permanently, labeling cds and cleaning the floor whilst other new starters were out in the massive shop. They would all go home at the right time while I'd be there until all of the stock had been marked up and shipped out. Without extra pay. Was I being exploited? Oh yes. I stuck it out for three weeks (during which I was tired/mental/crying, sometimes on the same day), then handed my notice in. Which the boss said he didn't receive even though I'd left it on his desk just as he'd asked me to. One 'discussion' later, he threatened me (even though I was just telling him were I'd put the letter) and I was out the door never to return.


Film Nearly a year after it was released in France, Cédric Klapisch's Les Poupées russes (The Russian Dolls), sequel to L'Auberge espagnole (Pot Luck/The Spanish Apartment) starring Kelly Reilly and Audrey Tautou finally has a release date in the UK. It's the 5th May.


TV Deal or No Deal USA. How different can a show be? Instead of boxes there are cases. Instead of the other contestants they have models. The banker is Donald Trump. Instead of Noel Edmunds they have Dr. Fiscus from St. Elsewhere...
Updated At this post from the Off The Telly blog, Graham quite rightly points out that Trump isn't a banker but just helping out ...


TV "I love the ethos of my friend Nigel [Farndale, of the Sunday Telegraph] who talked about the perfect interview being 'flirtation, seduction, betrayal'. That's nice, isn't it? There's no point meeting somebody with a meat cleaver the moment they open their mouth - because they're going to clam up, you're going to have lost your impact and the audience is going to hate you for not allowing anyone to say anything. You want to listen to the way they're building up their case. If there are flaws, that's where you bring in your stiletto." -- Emily Maitlis on her interview style on joining Newsnight.


Film Watching with disappointment the predictably poor Oscar coverage across the television stations this morning I did give quiet cheer that Crash won Best Picture, expecially since it's the kind of film which I'll be writing about in my dissertation -- I'm not doing the Woody Allen thing anymore -- it's all about defining the new 'hyperlink cinema' genre. I didn't make too many predictions this year on the basis that half the films hadn't been released in the UK at the time of the nominations, but looking back -- apparently Munich wasn't important enough; there was a director / best picture split (I wish I'd been there for that -- were the Brokeback people finding themselves having to sit down as Crash was read out?); got Hoffman; didn't get Witherspoon; got Weisz; didn't get Clooney. Oh well.

Seriously, did anyone record this? Can I have a copy? I'd hate to miss Jon Stewart doing his thing.


Shakespeare "And an ambitious Afghan theater group is hoping that their fellow Afghans - in a two-week theater run of "Love's Labour's Lost" that started Wednesday - will find deep connections to their own society today." [...] "Shakespeare was a great writer, a great performer, an actor, not famous only in England but all over the world," says Wali Faisal Azizi, the handsome actor who plays the nobleman, Dumain. "Shakespeare's secret is that beside knowing about people of his own country, he had insight into the human heart. That is why he is great." -- Scott Baldauf on a new production in Afghanistan.