See what they did there?

TV Can anyone else spot the not so deliberate mistake in the report currently doing the rounds on BBC News about real science in Doctor Who? Hint: watch the captioning of the clip of The Claws of Axos.

Listening to Waking Life


This past few days I've been experiencing Richard Linklater's Waking Life by just listening to the soundtrack through my walkman. With the visuals removed it becomes a dizzying cacophony of words and thoughts, but also allows the listener to concentrate on the ideas. Some sections are shouty and angry and other simply don't work without the animation. But others offer an excellent introduction to existentialism or dream theory. I understood the gentleman who expounds on the work of Andre Bazin for the first time and loved the girl who doesn't want us all to be ants. A transcript of the film is available here. The follow choice quotes really sprung out at me and seemed relevant:
"Allegedly, the story goes like this. Billy Wilder runs into Louis Malle, this is in the late 50's, early 60's. And Louis Malle had just made his most expensive film, which has cost 2 1/2 million dollars. And Billy Wilder asks him what the film is about. And Louis Malle says "Well, it's sort of a dream within a dream." And Billy Wilder says "You just lost 2 1/2 million dollars."

"You a dreamer? [...] Haven't seen too many around lately. Things have been tough lately for dreamers. They say dreaming's dead, that no one does it anymore. It's not dead, it's just been forgotten. Removed from our language. No one teaches it so no one knows it exists. The dreamer is banished to obscurity. Well I'm trying to change all that, and I hope you are too. By dreaming every day. Dreaming with our hands and dreaming with our minds. Our planet is facing the greatest problems it's ever faced. Ever. So whatever you do, don't be bored. This is absolutely the most exciting time we could have possibly hoped to be alive. And things are just starting."

"I can remember thinking, "Oh, someday, like in my mid-thirties maybe, everything's going to just somehow gel and settle, just end." It was like there was this plateau, and it was waiting for me, and I was climbing up it, and when I got to the top, all growth and change would stop. Even exhilaration. But that hasn't happened like that, thank goodness. I think that what we don't take into account when we're young is our endless curiosity. That's what's so great about being human."

"Thomas Mann wrote that he would rather participate in life than write 100 stories."
Who would have thought a good arguement against blogging could come from a man who died fifty years ago? Surely the point would be though that you live life so that you can write about it.

Scream of the Shalka.

TV With so much new Doctor Who buzzing around at the moment in cd and book form, now is a great (and expensive) time to be a fan. The new online adventure Scream of the Shalka begins tonight and it's another fresh take which underlines simply how flexible this format can be. Something strange is happening in what looks like Lancashire, and The Doctor has been sent by powers unknown (I'm betting on The Timelords) to sort it out.

Can you see what I'm doing here? So that this blog doesn't fall foul of the EC quota for recycling, I'm reposting a review I wrote of Shalka from its original 'broadcast'.

Being a fan hasn't really become less expensive. If you're an old schooler, you're still shelling out for dvds and cds and books. The new tv series is the icing on the cake. But it's still flexible. Re-watching this, listening to the new McGann audio Time Works and reading the fun comic strip at the heart of Doctor Who Adventures Issue One it's amazing how they're all essentially the same premise, the same character, the same story, but they're all subtly different and could attract different fans. It's actually somewhat of a shame that the mysteries of this retrospectively monikered Unbound story haven't been explained.

Someone once wrote that The Doctor is a fool proof role that anyone can play. I've never really agreed with that. Imagine most actors in a room with Davros, Dalek creator and s/he'll be exterminated before they can get hissy. I'm pleased to say that Richard E Grant is still instantly The Doctor even in voice form. It's hard to believe he's never seen the show when he manages to cram in both a Pertwee-esque 'moment of charm' and that McCoy-like feeling that something else is going on that's none of our business. There is also real chemistry between Grant and new companion, Sophie Okenodo's Alison, and it'll be interesting to see what develops.

See what's happening at the top there. Eagle eyed readers by notice something familiar. On reflection, although there is some magnetism up front, Richard's performance becomes increasingly listless over time. Rather like latterday McCoy he lacks a dramatic impetous, a t factor which holds the interest of the viewer/listener. Actually, the best performance in the thing is Sophie, because it's a new, naturalistic approach to companion acting which makes sense and oddly enough less cartoony than anything seen in live action, even in the new series. Not sure about that chemistry though. I think I might have been grasping for complements.

They're really helped by Paul Cornell's script, which somehow manages to offer something new and different without dashing away from the essential spirit of the show. Although the opening echoes Pertwee's first story Spearhead from Space, this is a very urban story, the Timelord drifting through a much larger modern landscape, and ironically for a cartoon some of the characterisation is more realistic than the TV series managed at times. Cornell has always been one of the most flexible Doctor Who writers and on the strength of this first episode, it's clear he's worked out yet another way of French polishing the police box. Really do hope they give him an episode of the new TV series to play about with.

As Sean has quite rightly pointed out, it is interesting how much of this first episode parallels Rose and in fact before the new series was broadcast Cornell did mention how similar his and Davies' approaches were but also how they differed in significant ways. This is a much darker rendering. The Doctor seems to be in the thrall of some higher power rather than travelling for his own pleasure. I still think he had the timelords in mind what with the wierdness of the robo-Master (which was an excellent idea).

Was the new series announced before Shalka went out? I can't remember. But I was right about who would be writing episodes in that first season, although I thought Lance Parkin would be in there as well. I do hope Gareth Roberts gets a full episode or two in Season Three -- it seems a tad unfair that he should be isolated to mopping up webisodes and interactive episodes and comic strips when he's written for Saturday nights before. Sorry, have I gone off topic?

The look of the piece is a quantum leap from the Shada remake (still online). Animated properly by Cosgrove Hall, the framing brings to mind Garry Trudeau's comic strip Doonesbury as well as some anime, in its use of static figures moving within a space. The character designs are also good, especially Alison although The Doctor seems quite arch to me -- perhaps this'll be explained in future stories when he find out what he's been up to.

I still stand by that Doonesbury reference, but I think it's in much the same way as the framing in Kevin Smith's Clerks mimics comic strips, it's the static nature of shots and scenes. I really wasn't a fan of the character design for this Nth Doctor -- too vamparic and artificial.

The Doctor is back ... again ... and he's looking really good for his age.

He certainly is. It's a shame Cornell couldn't continue this experiment. Any possibility that Big Finish might get the chance to resolve this story some time?

They wondered

Film After spending a day being told how important it is to check the facts of a story and keep away from idle gossip I look at this and weep. On April 1st, Jo-Blo, the movie site, published a joke article about Kate Beckinsale being considered for the title role in Joss Whedon's Wonder Woman film. They say that it's an April Fool in the closing paragraph. But then other sites across the web began posting the story as fact. I spotted it at Digital Spy (who to be fare have used words like 'reported') but a glance at the Google News search reveals that this has become really wide spread. As someone at this Whedonesque discussion suggests, this is the kind of thing which leads to someone being cast in a role just because its expected.

Law suit

Film "Uh oh. If a French screenwriter is telling the truth, Stephen Gaghan might be about to find himself in some very hot legal water. According to Stephanie Vergniault, whose case against Gaghan, Warner Brothers, and Section Eight (George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh's production company) will be heard in a Paris court on Monday, "At least 15 to 20 scenes of [Syriana] -- the characters and how they develop, creative elements, the entire structure -- [have] been lifted directly" from a screenplay she wrote and copyrighted in 2004." -- Cinematical.

Uh oh indeed. I hate to think about the implications this is going to have on my dissertation. I'm sure the details of the case will clear up who did what, why, when and to whom but it really does demonstrate the pitfalls in selecting new films and new ideas for academic research (background: I'm defining the genre of Hyperlink Cinema of which Syriana is an example).

Not raining

The Weather "When it comes to the weather, England has a grey and damp reputation. Yet millions of British residents are now facing emergency drought measures, and summer is still months away. Authorities warn that parts of England are desperately short of water following the driest 16-month period in more than 70 years, including two winters of unusually low rainfall." -- National Geographic notice that it hasn't rained too much in the UK lately.

Funny Cute

Blog! At Funny Cute, Katie Rise posts drawings and characatures of her friends and film characters.

Day Two

Life "So do you have a family? Any kids?" I asked.
"I don't think that's any of your business really."
It hadn't take me long to descend into the realm of tabloid journalism. About three minutes in fact. I was talking to a woman who was supposed to have made a call to emergency services about a house fire in her street earlier this morning. I'd already spoken to the landlord of the property and knew that some children had been living in the flat which was gutted and I thought that her kids might have mixed with them. She wasn't having any of it. She looked annoyed and I couldn't blame her.

In today's section of the media course we workshopped a real fake news story, working to tight publication deadlines putting together a narrative about a housefire in the Fallowfield area of Manchester. After an introduction from our tutors for the day, David Ward from The Guardian and Ian Herbert of The Independent (both Northern Correspondents) someone ran into the room to tell us that a fire at started.

As we left the building into a quadrangle outside, smoke billowed from a machine and it became apparent that there were eyewitnesses and we would have to question them for information about what had happened. There were policemen, firemen, the aforementioned slick landlord, neighbours and even the father of the children. It was impossible to speak to everyone but what was amazing was that in the spur of the moment there was a palpable suspension of disbelief as these actors became real witnesses at the scene of an actual fire, all with information that we needed, and at the back of our minds was the story we should be telling. Was this about dodgy landlords, dodgy parenting or poor safety?

Looking back at my notes I'm surprised I developed any kind of story at all -- I don't have shorthand, so it's a mess of names and times and opinions most of which turned out to be red herrings. Information was revealed in a piecemeal fashion like some of the best mysteries and I like to think I was more Bernstein than Woodward as I picked through the facts. Initially it looked like the mother of the family was off in Southport living it up with some random bloke leaving the kids alone in the flat whilst the father was out on his night shift and that was what I wrote at least. A further press conference revealed that the mother was actually dead in the property and the random bloke might have been a social worker. Later it transpired that the mother had actually been beaten up before she was incinerated and the father had disappeared after identifying her body.

The important conclusion from the day was that print news stories have a whole different structure to an essay or feature piece. The important information needs to be stated up front and simply, with the details of the event revealed over the following paragraph with the less important material pushed to the end because it'll be cut anyway for space and adverts anyway. This tends to sharpen the mind and I really wish I could write my university reports with this process -- it feels like a much clearer way to structure an argument since it becomes 'this is what I believe and why' rather than 'it could be this but it could also be that but you know it might be this too - but you know I think its a bit of everything' which seems to be how most of these things turn out.

The really thrilling moments happened when I realised or believed that I'd picked up information overlooked by others -- not many people spoke to the person who reported the fire and it was later revealed at the press conference that the police didn't even know who she was. Sometimes I managed to trip up the actors, such as when I asked the person from Social Services, off the record, if she'd heard that the mother and the social worker were having an affair (I mean really who knew I could be so tabloid). She spluttered for a moment or two before I admitted it was speculation. She grinned and said: "So it's just speculation."

But I think I was most impressed with how relaxed, intelligent and helpful the two journalistic mentors were with us. Happy to speak for many minutes at a time, they gave us an overview of the industry offering anecdotes about recent news stories and presenting insights into actually how much co-operation there is between papers. There was interesting material too about the points of the difference between The Guardian and The Independent in terms of how they structure their stories and what their journalistic priorities are, with the later trying to present a more feature based paper to the former's narrowband fact based approach. It's still a thrill to meet someone like David Ward whose work you've read and enjoyed and have them give you their opinion of what they do.

It's been an excellent couple of days and importantly it's focused some of my ideas about what I'd like to do in the future. I worked so long and hard to save to return to university, to do the course, that actually I've neglected the next thing. I'm still nebulously thinking that it'll be something film or television related but really I need to decide what I actually want to do, at least at first, and pile all of my energy into that. It's worked for me in the past, so hopefully it'll help shape my future.

Meeting Gordon Burns

Life Today I got to shake the hand of The Krypton Factor's Gordon Burns.

For two days I'm enjoying a short course, 'Insight into Broadcasting and Journalism' which tells the story of getting a job in the media. Various speakers are covering different aspects of the process and Gordon was there representing presenting (he currently introduces the BBC's Northwest Tonight). There a buzz beforehand. Everyone said, 'Gordon Burns' in that faraway dreamy way that people do when they know they're about to meet legend.

When I was at school, on the first day of a year, a teacher was going around the class looking for things to say to the kids. When his eyes rested on me, he said:
"Stuart Burns. Do you know who your famous namesake is?"
"Gordon Burns." I said.
"From the Krypton Factor."
"Oh. Have you not heard of Robert Burns. The poet?"
The pattern of my life can be traced back to that moment. I was always a telly rather than a book kid. But here I was getting the chance to see a childhood hero.

After an excellent explanation of what newsrooms expect from volunteers and an anecdote about how he stumbled into the media business, he invited people who were interested in having something like his job to visit the front of the lecture theatre in which we were gathered to try their hand at speaking for a minute into a camera.

A girl stepped down and said she'd talk about the NHS and she manages a skillful agitprop about politics and funding. Then Gordon surprised her by replaying her performance on the giant display screen. She was very engaging - she has eye contact and that special important y factor. Smiles all around. Then Gordon asked for more volunteers.


He picked on a girl who had previously put her hand up, but now, realizing the ordeal she'd be going through, she declined saying that she was thinking about a different career plan.

"Anyone else?" prodded Gordon. "You. Let's have a chap."

To my horror I realise he's looking at me. To my terror I realise that my hand is straight up in the air. I know because I'd put it there hoping to look eager but not wanting to be picked on. Well, not really. Well, alright I wanted to shake hands with the man and for these brief, few, desperate seconds it seemed like the only way. He might run off at the end of the session and I'd miss my chance. Even though I'd fallen into the trap of volunteering for something.

I stumble down to the front.

"What are you going to talk on?" He asks.
"Erm?" I hadn't actually thought this far ahead. Film review. I could do a film review. I could talk about Unknown White Male. That was fresh in my mind. "Weblogs."

Gordon is puzzled. The room is puzzled. I'm puzzled.

I sit down. I look into the lense and Gordon counts me in. As I speak I realise how long a minute actually is if you don't really know what you're going to say. Lord knows how Paul Merton copes on Just A Minute (I know it's because he's Paul Merton).

I introduce the concept of weblogs and that I have one and the kinds of subjects it covers. I head off into community weblogs and then on to the BBC and Nick Robinson's work and then mention The Guardian's new Comment is Free site. Then for some reason I say that this weblog is five years old this year and I'm still trying to decide how I'm going to mark the event.

And I was rubbish. So bad. I dried about half way through and lost the ability to remember words and put them into sentences. I used phrases like 'a gentleman by the name of' and indeed 'mark the event' which you'd never use in regular conversation. In the later autopsy, the crowd/group/audience would notice that I didn't make eye contact with the camera much, which I didn't because I was distractedly talking up to the crowd/group/audience instead.

Gordon said that he thought I had a thick skin so he felt he could tell me that much of what I said was boring, 'all weblog this, weblog that' and I would have been hurt of he hadn't been right. I should have just picked one aspect or a topic which people might have been interested in. Turns out weblogs - not as interesting as the NHS. Part of your brain might think you can be an evangelist for the medium but you're really talking about the 'innnernet' to people who don't really care. Looking up at that picture now projected back at me, with my black dot eyes, pasty unshaven face, unkept hair and chin which seemed to have grown to be the size of an asteroid I knew that I was right to have selected Print media for my workshop the next day.

At the end, as I stood up I made eye contact with Gordon. He put out his hand. I took it. I shook it. I smiled. He smiled. And he thanked me. And my short flirt with television presenting was worth it.

The TeeVeepedia

TV "The West Wing is a science-fiction television program on NBC, created by Aaron Sorkin. It posits a highly implausible alternate reality in which a wise, well-educated president, selflessly devoted to the public and apparently unbeholden to special interests, leads a passionate and effective Democratic administration. In the realm of bittersweet liberal wish-fulfillment, it ranks second only to The Daily Show. [...] It has been on the air for seven years now. Depending on whom you ask, that may be five years too many."

Welcome to the TeeVeepedia, a world in which Emilio Estevez plays Jack Bauer, Jennifer Garner is really Keri Russell in disguise and Detective John Munch threatens to be in every tv show ever by 2012. See also BBC, old Doctor Who enemy Worf and Star Trek: SVU.

Film Scheduling Twist

TV In a wierd twist of scheduling tonight, The Eiger Sanction played on ITV4 tonight opposite Taxi Driver on More4. Wierd twist, because the film is playing in the movie house across the street from the porn theatre that Travis Bickle thinks would have have been the perfect date place for Betsy. Imagine how that film might have ended if Travis had decided that seeing Clint Eastwood in action was a better night out. Then again I'm sure he would have shown her his gun eventually...

Adverts in The West Wing

TV "Last night Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat culture spokesman, said several people had expressed concern to him about adverts on More4, another Channel 4 station. There was a general feeling that the channel was swapped by excessive advertising. "I know people have been concerned about the level of advertising in shows like The West Wing," he said. "The advertising occurs within five or six minutes of the programme starting. It may be channels like More4 are subject to a more relaxed regime but it shouldn't be that relaxed." -- Chris Hastings in The Daily Telegraph

You're not joking. I was watching Friday night's much improved episode of the Wing and the adverts appeared directly after the title sequence and seemed to go one for ever. I ended up recording the rest of it so that I could fast forward. I understand this is the American way but it really breaks up the flow of the drama. Plus they hardly adhere to the US breaks with the ads often cutting into the middle of scenes or transitions to the extent that a musical beat will be broken up with the last few bars being heard after the ads. Terrible. If I wasn't so desperate to see what happens next I'd be waiting for the dvds again. [via]

Ghost Post

Life I'm in the middle of a mood enhancing Before Sunrise / Before Sunset evening -- at the halfway point trying to let the first film sink in before I plough on with the second. Just listening to the soundtrack album as write which sounds nicely distorted through my rackety old speakers. I'm imagining that I'm in some ancient apartment in Paris and I can hear someone playing the first Julie Delpy track through the wall.

I've just been checking my news reader and found what I like to call a 'ghost post' -- these are items which people have written up and left on their blogs but then had second thoughts but by the time they're deleted they've been picked up by RSS for that readership. I could tell this was gone because the following post eluded as much. I won't tell you where I read it but it was about someone whose having a really bad patch and in the unlikely event that you're reading this I just want to say something to you that my mum would always say to me. These things do pass. Sometimes just existing is ok because it means the next thing is better. And these things have nothing to do with how clever you are. They just happen, they make you feel bad, and sometimes you have to care about yourself before anyone else, because the world might need you for the next thing.

News Score


I am nerdier than 28% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

Lord that's lower than I thought. Goodness.

Star Wars Television Series

Film "That's not going to happen probably for another year and a half while we develop scripts and everything else. But it's fantastic; we've got some incredible writers. It's going to be much darker, much more character-based, and I think it?s going to be everything the fans always wanted the prequels to be. They'll be one-hour episodes. It takes place between Episodes III and IV. It?s going to be all-new characters, maybe a few bounty hunters in there to start the series off." -- Rick McCallum talking to Empire Magazine.

To repeat that ... "I think it?s going to be everything the fans always wanted the prequels to be." Cinematical is right. This is Rick admitting that the prequels might not have been enthusiastically received by everyone, especially the fans. The problem I always had with those films is that they didn't seem entirely sure which audience they were speaking to. Fans hate them because there's too much blah and not enough hah. Kids at the screenings I went to were bored during all the endless diplomacy scenes. In most places the films lack heart and anything close to geniune engagement with the audience. Is it too much to hope that these new scripts have been written by people like Manny Coto, Drew Goddard, Alexa Junge, David Fury or Byran Fuller?