Television Unlike the rest of the population apparently, I actually watched the first series of This Life when it was originally broadcast (I'd loved the ad campaign featuring clips from the show) but didn't enjoy the second series quite as much. As Miles metafictionally noted during an interview in the +10 episode broadcast tonight, I just didn't think it was the same after Warren left so abruptly. So I was able to watch the reunion half with a nostalgia for the time of that broadcast and just some affection for the characters. And despite the reservations I voiced here, it was, as Warren might say, outstanding.

Perhaps deliberately using a model borrowed from The Return of the Sacarcus Seven, The Big Chill and Peter's Friends, Amy Jenkins fluid and florid script brought the characters together for a reunion in a very big house in the country after they reunited at the funeral of Ferdy, Warren's boyfriend who was a regular later on in the original series. This was an extremely good idea because it largely allowed the rekindling of what were always the most memorable of scene in the original series as the characters pottered about the house they shared.

Incredibly director Joe Aherne recreated the magic of the original although the camera work seemed a little less chaotic, perhaps because as Jack Davenport (Miles) noted in the 'making of' that followed the show, they were more aware of were the camera was going to be and could make sure their performance would show. Some of the lighting design was precise too, a barbeque in the grounds of the house looking like something from a Stephen Polikoff drama. The performances too were uniformally excellent and it's a credit to all the actors that despite having some really prominent other roles in the meantime that it took mere minutes for me to think of them as Egg, Milly, Miles, Warren and Anna again. I wasn't sure about Miles' wig though, that seemed wrong.

Rather than taking the easy option of simply building the story around explaining what has happened to the characters in the intervening years, that was largely dealt with in the first few minutes - Miles is in the stockmarket, the house is his and he's married to a Vietnamese wife; Anna's the only character whose still a lawyer but feels her biological clock ticking wanting children without having to deal with a man; Egg is a successful novelist but Milly has given up her career to look after the children and Warren is a life coach who still doesn't feel part of the group and can't understand why Miles hates him.

This was about the how and why rather than the what and like aforementioned films that inspired this, there wasn't anything too dramatic, not a lot of plot to speak of. Just lots of talking, lots of really great dialogue and a real warmth, a chemistry which shows that the actors themselves had much the same reunion experience making the show as the characters themselves. This led to a Before Sunset vibe in which you wondered just how much of the acting was actually acting (helped somewhat by the fact that like Ethan Hawkes' character Jesse in that film, Egg had written a book about his past experiences that mirrored just the thing that was being sequelled). The real success though was that it worked as its own internal drama -- seeing the original series would probably embellish the experience but this worked perfectly well as a stand alone piece.

This wasn't a continuity fest - quite rightly after ten years, the stories of the past weren't really referred to directly, no stirring up of the Dililah incident or Milly's dalliance with O'Donnell. Most of the unanswered questions from the cliffhanger ending of the series were apparently ignored, the viewer being left to fill in the blanks or able to retain the ideas they'd already been having all these years. It was a shame though that we didn't find out more about the significant secondary characters like Warren's sister Kira, Anna's work mate Jo and Miles's once fiance Rachel. But the creative decision here was to stick with the original five and it was probably the right one.

Which isn't to say that the old enmities and dalliances weren't repeated; these were certainly the characters we once knew. They had changed fairly logically to continue what the classic series did best - using this small group of characters to talk about what was happening to the rest of their generation. Poetically for example, Miles had realised that to get Anna he had to emasculate himself, financially and emotionally but still that wasn't enough - she chose Warren to help her with her baby. Similarly, Milly was experiencing a loss of identity in the face of motherhood.

Like Before Sunset this didn't really end on too much of a resolution. Milly and Egg were apparently back together, Warren had agreed to help Anna with her baby and Miles was disappearing off around the world. But it still didn't feel like the lives of the characters had somehow resolved. I for one would welcome a Will & Grace style spin-off featuring Warren and Anna or seeing what Miles found on his travels. But in that 'making of', all of the actors seemed to feel like this was a full stop rather than another comma, the end of the end. But I really think some of them had a glint in their eye. Give it ten years and perhaps +20 will be on our screens.

Captain Jack Harkness & End of Days.

TV If you're waiting for the BBC Two repeat don't read this review. I wouldn't want to spoil it for you because it's a treat really. Everyone on Outpost Gallifrey is giving it five stars. Now for the rest of us ...

What - the fuck - was that?

It's perhaps fitting that the final episode of Torchwood, after what has, at best, been a variable season should be utter bollocks. But when the announcer beforehand suggested that there may be strong language, I really hadn't expected it to be from my own lips as I resorted to a mixture of swearing at the sheer awfulness masquerading as quality drama and laughing so hard I nearly pissed myself. After blast of comedy that was The Runaway Bride, the intricate beauty of radio Who yesterday and the joy of The Sarah Jane Adventures earlier, I might have known Torchwood would ruin this Whovian marathon like a pissed streaker knocking over Paula Radcliffe just inches away from the finishing line and a world record.

But actually, no, I should really save my enmity for the End of Days until I've dealt with Captain Jack Harkness, the first episode tonight, not the man. Because, and I'm sure this'll be a total surprise considering the opening paragraph to this review. I really quite liked it. And not just because Ianto finally got around to shooting Owen. In keeping with most of the season, of course some elements were entirely derivative, this time of anything from Back To The Future to the underrated Frequency, with a character lost in the past leaving clues to some future friend to help them escape and the well worn conceit of not being able to tell someone about their fateful future.

Where it really scored was as a character piece which developed some of the mystery of Captain Jack which has been brewing since the first series of Doctor Who. For the first time in ages he seemed to be somewhat close to his old self, compassionate without being deadly really wanting, with a Sam Beckett Quantum Leap vibe to give the man whose identity he would 'borrow' the best final night he could, and with, for once, lots of romance. Well alright it was a bit of a coincidence that he should meet his name sake in Cardiff on that night of all nights, but sometimes this kind of serendipity can work well in drama and it did here. The sudden reappearance of what looked like the basement from New Earth jarred, but the recreation of the rest of the period setting was lovely and the introduction of wartime animosity towards Tosh was surprisingly realistic.

Pleasingly, however, the contemporary scenes ran in parallel and the whole benefited from having a definable goal to work towards, the find of the equation, the opening of the rift. Considering that this was a Doctor Who spin-off tackling time travel at least it was doing something else with it, really showing the consequences of potentially being lost in time. Pity Owen though, that, even when he's doing something for best of intentions he still came across as a twat and when the bullet pierced his shoulder it really was a shame that it wasn't his head (for reasons that'll become clear below). I genuinely thought they were going to kill him off, so the only real disappointment of the episode was that he lived to snarl another day. My only real question is -- what was the missing dongle from the Rift Machine doing in a grandfather clock in some random dance hall?

Barrowman probably gave his best performance of the season and he was aided by a feisty turn from Naoko Mori revealing once more what a wasted opportunity the persistent focus on Gwen all season has been. It's just a shame that the apparent loyalty between whatever his name is and Tosh wasn't carried over to the next episode - but this is the upbeat part of review so I'm really not going there yet. Matt Rippey as the real Jack was excellent too, very touching as a man divided and for once a guest cast member who worked within the ensemble rather than overshadowing them (which is actually a good thing). Murray Melvin as the time hopping Bilis, who I'm sure will eventually be revealed to be Gary from Goodnight Sweetheart at pension age, was particularly creepy in his scenes and if I'd had a week between episodes I really think I would have been looking forward to seeing what they did with him. Thank god for that.

It's a pity then that it was all for naught as, after a quick flash of the logo, the series once again plunged headlong into a vat of manure. The trailer for End of Days was quite promising with all the visitations from the past and Sarah Hughes in The Observer built my hopes up further by suggesting that 'this excellent finale shows' that the programme 'has potential'. Sarah, given that you also say that the scripts needed tightening up how can you justify this episodic mess as being 'excellent'. Were we watching the same programme?

Y'know the one were they didn't seem to have a clue how to finish the season so decided to pull a hitherto unheralded fifty-foot demon out of the ground and have it stomp all over Cardiff, which looked half amazing but made NO FUCKING SENSE WHATSOEVER? At least when Buffy revealed the First Evil it ran with it for a whole season and didn't just trot it out in the closing twenty minutes. We've seen surprise aliens before, but this appeared without any logical foreshadowing.

It's a shame because the episode began quite well with the cameo from Carrie Gracie from News 24 and the indications of all the timeslips across the world (the sudden appearance of The Beatles on the roof of Abby Road studio is a good thing). This created the potential for an epic battle with time, a season long story of attempting to send everyone back where it came from Invasion of the Dinosaurs style. But then Torchwood, the series and the organization, did what it always does, sits around in the hub having an argument and then interacted with the big epic happening by meeting a Roman Centurion in a police cell and a couple of extras in a hospital. Not even the sudden appearance of PC Andy, the man who is a regular in the good version of the series in my head, with his lovely acting could save the tedium. While the idea was probably to make the big, small, how boring is that?

The episode was, well episodic, so once all the stuff that was happening across the globe had been established and they'd made the ooh two visits to see what was happening in Cardiff (hardly the montage sequence in Ghostbusters is it? And we know they've seen Ghostbusters) everything finally came home to roost after yet another argument in the hub and Owen finally being kicked out (well until he sneaked back in later). This was spoilt by taking about half an hour as Owen knocked on for no readily apparent reason about retcon again. Get out of there. No one cares and this has zero to do with what is to come. This was another example of Torchwood dropping in useless exposition that would not be paid off later when it should have been consolidating the overall story of the coming apocalypse.

Meanwhile, the sudden appearance of Lisa to Ianto in the trailer was revealed to be - nothing more than a vision cooked up Buffy First Evil style by whatever lies beneath to try and get them to open the rift. Again. And for the lucky people who might have skipped every other episode there was the usual nano-flashback to explain who she is, although I wonder how many people would actually recognize her without the metal bondage gear and high heals. Same thing happened for Owen and although it was, nice, seeing these old faces again I don't think their presence was really explained or how whatever it was had read their mind.

The not unexpected visit to the caretaker's shop was marred by being apparently minutes after Owen had been kicked out of the hub and a repeat of the characterization incongruity that occurred in Countrycide after Owen and tried to dry hump Gwen up against a tree. After telling Jack what to go do with himself after kicking out her fuckbuddy, who let's be clear on this, has potentially brought about the end of the world, Gwen's in the shop cracking jokes again and joshing with whatever his real name is. What is it with this characterization? Shouldn't she still be a little bit pissed off?

As usual, there was no urgency to the scene and at no point have we being reminded of the stakes. Bilis is back, still creepy, still possibly a really interesting character. Is he a timelord? Probably not, but his sudden CGless disappearance into time was fairly interesting even if the scene lacked momentum. It's at this point then that the episode went totally off the rails as though all sense had left the writing and directing process and the story was being put together by a group of chimps playing a Torchwood Roleplaying Game.

Well alright I can see now what they were doing. Bilis gives Gwen vision of the future and the death of Reece. Gwen takes Reece to Torchwood. Bilis breaks into Torchwood and kills Reece. Cue tragic music and much emoting from poor Eve Myles, who was acting her heart out for nothing. Inevitably, this being Torchwood I assumed that they really had killed her boyfriend, it being entirely likely that he'd been pottering about in seven odd episodes, shouting now and then, so I was pretty incensed. That fact that now I'm only realising that he was murdered by Bilis to turn Gwen to the point of wanting to open the rift either means I'm very slow or it simply wasn't made very clear in the episode. Probably the former.

You see you really have to wonder what goes on in the tone meetings when Owen just wonders back into the hub, the gang standing over the corpse of Reece and Tosh grins like she's just won the lottery, whilst and let's make this again quite clear, the world is ending and it's his fault. At least this led into the best part of the episode when John Doe launched into a list of everything the team has done wrong all series and pays off everything I've been saying. It wasn't quite the meta-joke I was expecting but at least it showed that he was aware of the mistakes the other characters had made, bravely underlining the fact that this is the series that has no likeable characters whatsoever. It's a misfortune then that, well alright let's call him Jack for now, received the gun shot to the head as this bunch of jerks showed the loyalty we've loved to see from them all these episodes.

Now I have to admit to the next section of the episode being something of a blur. I remember cheering when the hub was blown up Liberator style, seeing them run for their lives, suddenly deciding that Jack is still their leader when they need him, dragging his body outside. And Bilis talking in tongues and bringing out the re-rendering of the beast from The Satan Pit, something else buried in the Earth that is being unearthed this festive season. He was the Son of the Beast apparently. Of all the mother series monsters to make an appearance I hadn't expected that.

Disappointingly no attempt was made to suggest that all of the characters wierd behaviour in the previous twelve episodes was a result of his influence, just this one, and after that I was laughing at it too much to remember much else apart from seeing John Barrowman, so great on Loose Women and Never Mind The Buzzcocks, the man who could have been Will with Grace, having to sit in some gravel being oppressed by a giant shadow. Is Jack dead? Is this going to be the cliffhanger?

Err no. Two reasons. Firstly we know Jack's back in Doctor Who Season Three in, Utopia, an episode written by Steven Moffat*. Secondly, because there are ten minutes of the episode remaining. Of Gwen sitting around at his bedside waiting for him to rejuvenate. You mean there wasn't another ten minutes of cool time tripping goodness at the opening of the story because of this? This scene might have worked if we still thought about any of these characters sympathetically but, and this is the reason I've been so detailed in my description of their actions, they've been so random in their behviour for the whole episode, let alone series that we just don't care.

I spent half of it wondering how killing the beast meant that time became a do-over, fixing the hib and everything else. It was like watching the final episode of that season of Dallas in which Pam woke up and Bobby stepped out of the shower, the bomb explosion in an office that took out both JR and Sue Ellen simply part of a wacky dream reseting everything that had gone before much like the re imagining of the timeline that went on here s0 that everybody lives. The other half was taken up with a wait for the inevitable, a final blast of lethargy in a series that has been filled with it. Seeing Jack stand and forgive his teammates was nice, but you just know that they're not going to be any different next series ...

Then in the final moments, Jack's whisked away by the sound of the Tardis. It says a lot that this sound can still be quite stirring and that you can imagine that the Doctor and Martha are already on board, enjoying their adventures. Perhaps we'll eventually find out why they decided to select that moment to pick up Jack and not when Cardiff was being menaced by a giant beastie and the Earth was being destroyed by giant cracks in time. Perhaps there will be an episode of that series that will explain all of the plotholes in this episode but I doubt it. But it says a lot about Torchwood that it didn't end with its own internal cliffhanger and one that will instead be explained in a mother series entirely. If only I'd watched the film End of Days. At least that has the unlikely sight of Miriam Margolese in a fist fight with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I appreciate this has all been very harsh and sarcastic and fueled by too much caffeine and I'll probably regret some of it in the morning, particularly the bit about the chimps but Torchwood has largely been a massive disappointment and it simply makes no sense to me that the same production team behind Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures can turn out something this crude and apparently be very pleased with it. As this review/rant has demonstrated I have a tendency to over analyze everything which could be why I tend to focus on narrative flaws at the expense of what is often quite fluid direction, remarkable lighting design, editing and music. If anything Captain Jack Harkness pointed to there still being potential in the series, but End of Days was no way to do anything. And I do wish I could be one of the people on Outpost Gallifrey giving it five stars, but I'm not, I'm the grinch and that's that. Perhaps on the level of a television comic book it works. I just expect a bit more from something calling itself adult drama.

I'm going to bed.


Life So here we are at start of a new year. I'm having a slightly wierd day because not having a job to go to work or college it still feels like a Christmas holiday and it really shouldn't because I need get my head around sorting my life out. New Year was quiet, punctuated with the viewing of Doctor Who spin-offs and writing about them. Well, three out of four isn't bad. Expect an epilogue to Review 2006 soon. Hope you enjoyed it. I'm off to have lunch. Cheese sandwiches probably.

The Invasion of the Bane.

TV When the only thing that grates in a piece of drama is the judicious use of the word 'muffin' something must have gone right. Really, you'd have to be a cynical sausage not to come away from the first story of The Sarah Jane Adventures, The Invasion of the Bane thinking that it was a Doctor Who spin-off too far. As promised, this was a full bloodied piece of drama, skewed only slightly younger than it's parent series, full of heart and fun and madness. Unlike Torchwood I can't really compare this to anything else because the last real kids show I watched was probably Box of Delights on dvd last year, but I think the key to the show's success is that you didn't actually feel like you needed to make any allowances for the fact that its not supposed to be directed your target audience. It had as much fizz bang and wizzle as anything else in the franchise and was far superior to most episodes of the show set in Cardiff.

Sure the story was simple and not completely original, dealing as it did with an alien compound in a foodstuff brainwashing the populace into becoming zombies, with a ceiling dwelling alien at its nexus. And it was all very Pertwee era really with a factory, despite the day-glo orange fixtures, that wouldn't have looked out of place in The Green Death and the alien leader, Mrs. Wormwood, the kind of theatrical megalomaniac currently missing from the main show - Samantha Bond's steely eyes and cold delivery being perfectly alarming in a Delgado Master way. And with all the shapeshifting they were all from the same genus as School Reunion's Krillatines, except I would say far more repulsive in their non-human form. Unlike those Pertwee stories, the allegory here was at the kid-friendly level of extolling the nastiness of junk food, with the clever kids, not drinking the sugary stuff, not being possessed. Still I'm sure theres a merchandising opportunity should Barrs want to rebrand Irn-Bru for a younger audience.

But as I wrote of The Blood of the Daleks last night, the key here was execution. This seemed to be directed better than any of Colin Teague's Torchwood episodes and it was quite shock to actually be able to see anything other than HD-downmix blur. The music was unmemorable alth0ugh that's actually a good thing in this case because it didn't drown out whatever the drama was and I didn't detect any of the annoying repetition that's dogged some episodes of the other spin-off -- this seemed to be the work of someone else, someone with a better sense of pacing, flow and storytelling. I hope that these sensibilities will continue into the main series in this case.

I was really worried that despite having her name in the title, Sarah-Jane would recede into the background, simply advising the kids as they went off on their own adventures. Perhaps predictably they took the Rose/Everything Changes route of introducing the Rose/Gwen character Marie up front and then presented Sarah-Jane as the slightly distant figure, but then, cleverly, and with some relief they took advantage of the fact that most kids will know who she is from School Reunion and ran their stories in parallel. So as the kids got lost in the factory in true Children's Film Foundation fashion, Sarah-Jane was confronting the villain.

Unlike K9 and Company, this showed a real respect for Sarah-Jane as a character; unlike the tin dog, the younger cast members weren't allowed to overshadow her, still keeping her front and centre in the drama. So even though the kids had a hand in the solution at the end, she still had that powerful moment when she realised how to get back into the factory, perhaps remembering Mickey's approach from School Reunion.

To a degree, quite properly, she's become something of an ersatz Doctor with all of the gadgets. You can see items such as the sonic lipstick (I mean really) and Mr Smith as useful narrative devices in the half hour format to get to the nub of the problem. It's a shame K9 won't be around too much, but that scene in which in floated in space was really quite touching and it's nice that they at least acknowledged his contractual absence. It's nice too that she is working outside the government, but unlike the buffoons in Torchwood, not always taking the military option (unless you count that bottle of defensive spray) and diplomatically making friends with aliens even if they happen to look like they want to possess your body for centuries and go on a shagging spree.

What about that room, a love letter to her days traveling with the Doctor and working with UNIT? The picture of Alistair? The photo of her and K-9 and was that Tom? All of those continuity references were perfect, there for the long terms fans but ignorable by the target audience. I mean Artron Energy, how cool is that? It's a shame that the anthology/amalgam/whatever he was ended up with a Star Wars reference for a name. Although Alistair and Harry are quite old fashioned names now I suppose, but I was really hedging for John. Plus Sarah wasn't afraid to use the D word in front of the children.

What with all this and the Gallifrey mention in The Runaway Bride, the franchise is becoming increasingly free and easy with the mythology and I for one whole heartedly approve so long it's done as sympathetically as here. Given that this story was set at least a year and a half after School Reunion (as per the K9 (sniff) conversation) that puts this in late 2008 perhaps even 2009 (consults Lance Parkin's Ahistory) I wonder how the Butler Institutes's environmental clean up operation is proceeding and if the reconstruction of San Francisco has begun yet.

Some might bristle at the contemporary references though. Does 'muffin' have currency amongst the play-ground set now? Don't I sound like I'm a hundred years old? But at the least the Jeremy Kyle and Hollyoaks references seemed ok and how funny to hear them in a BBC show. Nice to see the welcome return of Blue Peter although I wonder what Konnie Huq would say if she knew that in the Whoniverse she'll still be in the job two years hence?

The key success is casting. Yasmin Paige playing Maria is a fine actress and Liz Sladen is obviously having great fun working with her. There was a real depth and warmth and naturalness to her performance topped off with bags of good humour. As Luke, Tommy Knight had a perfect Brent Spiner-like stillness that didn't spill off into Haley Joel Osment AI territory. I'd say the only weak link amongst the kids was Porsha Lawrence Mavour who has that straight out of stage school sheen the other two lacked. Given that Kelsey was sidelined in finale, it looks like that character's job will be to get into the trouble that the other three will sort out, the Shaggy/Cordelia of this Scooby-gang. Rounding out what appears to be the guest cast was Joseph Millson as Marie's father -- good sense of irony and likeability.

And there is the middle of it all was Liz Sladen. I'd like to finally get around to listening to those Big Finish stories to see if this is a different version of the character, but her work here was absolutely in keeping with the past of the character and her appearance in School Reunion. Sure enough, she is like the eccentric aunt and she seemed far more relaxed than in K9 and Company. Then she seemed have a kind of authoritarian attitude thrust up on her but here she'd still retained that slightly goofy sense of fun and also managed somehow not to look silly holding up, and I'll say this again, a sonic lipstick.

This has the potential to be a really great, really fun series. The way is open for all kinds of different types of stories and I'd imagine much of the time it'll be in the territory of Round The Twist or Erie , Indiana, general weirdness working its way through in twenty-five minutes, with Luke discovering this world he's been born into, Marie discovering the new side the world she thought she once knew and Sarah-Jane finally finding her place in that world. Unlike Torchwood, it feels like a genuine Doctor Who spin-off rather than something that's been bolted onto the 'verse and apparently the return of many old favourites is promised. Perhaps this will be the true place for the reintroduction of Lord Lethbridge-Stewart with the kids being scared by a Yeti sitting on a toilet in Tooting-Beck.

The Blood of the Daleks.

Radio A figure, an intruder, appears in the Tardis. The Doctor doesn't know who she is and for now doesn't know where she's come from but as time passes it becomes apparent that she doesn't particularly want to be there and with her behaviour, he doesn't want her to be there either. She's from England in the early twenty-first century so he sets the co-ordinates of his ship as close to home as possible and dropping out of the time vortex materialises and ... mysteriously bounces back into the time stream.

Whether by coincidence or design, the first story of this brand new series of Big Finish made adventures for digital radio BBC7, The Blood of the Daleks, began in much the same way as The Runaway Bride except over and over it flouted expectations and Steve Lyon's script appeared to be a reaction to all of the excepted norms of the television set-up. The reason the ship doesn't appear in the contemporary Northern England is because of a forcefield bounces them off it (nice); the timelords are alive and well; The Doctor is far less huggable and as Paul McGann pointed out in the pre-publicity a bit cantankerous; the companion Lucie Miller really doesn't want to be there, and she and the Doctor spend most of their time bickering, but unlike Donna the Bride neither are really in much of a position to do anything about it. And unlike Sixth and Peri, the bickering is funny. For the first time in ages I've wanted to re-listen to an audio adventure simply to enjoy the dialogue.

Even the story is somewhat darker than the current television series might attempt. A human colony on the alien world of Red Rocket Rising is in its death throws after a devastating impact from an unknown object from space. A random selection of humans have been sent into space looking for help; the remainder have worked through their remaining resources and are about to start turning on each other when a rescue ship arrives flown by the Daleks. As usual the Doctor is in the middle of it, no one is listening to him and the colony's deadly secret is slowly revealed. Far from being two standard, twenty-five minute episodes rammed together in the middle, this revealed the story slowly over its running time and even with an initial 'action sequence' it's quite a shock to be back in the territory of hearing quite length scenes and time being spent to create a world. But at no point did it feel as though Lyons had stopped the action to describe the scenery, which is quite rare.

If this had been made for television it would been in the seventies in the cold war and would have looked like the tv adaptation of John Wyndham's Day of the Triffids, the scorched landscape, the acid rain, the hopelessness. The only levity is in the brilliant charactersation of the Doctor and Lucie. Elsewhere, everyone is dying and things can only get worse with the arrival of the pepperpots. And these are the Daleks at their most sinister, absolutely passionless and deadly and with a dribble of cunning. Nick Briggs has a wail of a time here and when he says 'Dok-tor' for the first time and I actually sat up in my chair wide eyed (although that could also have been all the caffeine I'm drinking to keep me awake this New Year's Eve).

Perhaps understandably, there's no real indication of when chronologically this Eighth Doctor story is set to keep it independent of the other strands, the novels, the comic strips and the other Big Finish stories in particular; as far as some listeners know it could be directly after the television movie. That's good, I like that none of the McGann stories are fixed although it's a shame he didn't have a grander re-introduction, Storm Warning style, working his way through the TARDIS library. That's the only concession to the new way of things. Bang and they're into the story, landing the Tardis is really the wrong place. Pleasingly, the David Arnold mechanical mix of the theme tune was all present and correct when I'd expected the Murray Gold special.

It features Paul's most effervescent performance in years. For some time, the Eighth Doctor has been a bit subdued, lacking the passion that was so enjoyable in the first couple of seasons of the audio stories - which seemed to be a mix of new writers not being able to get a fix on who he is and the actor looking for the darkness. The magic really does return here, and although some of the Byronic romance is missing (perhaps because of something that may yet be revealed or just his age) the bluff is all there.

Spot the amazing, slightly Pythonesque scene when he agrees with everything rebel leader Lowell is saying in order to gain more insight into the situation or the chilling moment when he tells the acting President that the question she should be asking is 'How am I going to save you from the worst mistake you're made in your lives?' That's a very Eighth Doctor line and McGann plays it beautifully. But really I think he's just loving the challenge of playing opposite Sheridan Smith who is on fine form. Lucie is a really, really promising companion even though she's exactly what a contestant on a timelord only episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway? might suggest as the world's worst person to be sharing a type-40 with.

She might be cut from much the same jib as Sam, Izzy and Rose, she really doesn't want to be there and says so, a lot. But unlike Donna she know who the Doctor is, what he is, and what she's doing there and that makes a difference because it also means she can undercut his authority at every turn telling him really, really amusingly what she thinks of him. The most polite description is 'frock coated ponce' - which as you can see also makes her a great audio description device. It's quite fun to have the image of this Doctor, threadbare after all these years being made fun of in this way (and apparently, according to Beyond The Vortex, the short Confidential-style making-of programme that closes out the hour slot, McGann really loved these sections having had to wear the stupid wig during the filming of the movie).

Smith's delivery is excellent and there's a real chemistry with Paul. Don't expect any declarations of love between these two though -- this is going to be a union born of grudging respect. I'd imagine that some will be slightly annoyed by her constant quipping and sarcasm, but I thought it was refreshing. It's just a shame that just sometimes Lyon's writing loses the shock of the real for family purposes. It just doesn't seem right to me that a northern lass from 2006 would be saying Blimey. My other reservation is the confusing spelling of her name - what is wrong with simply 'Lucy'?

It's just really refreshing to have a Doctor and companion team were you're not entirely sure what the next move will be but you know it won't be what you expect. Lucie and the Doctor don't yet have that connection yet in which they each know what the other is thinking. At one crucial moment, she makes a particularly wrong decision, and although it is with the best of intentions it's the kind of rookie mistake the Doctor simply doesn't expect.

For once, the shoe is on the other foot because Lucie is the one with the big secret and the pretty potent potential plot arc - why she's been put in the 'witness protection programme'. I like that there will always be the nagging feeling that not everything is being revealed and that at some point in the future something really big is going to happen. Especially since she thinks, as she shouts to the Time Lords 'This Doctor of yours is a bit rubbish.'

The episode was a textbook example of how well a story can be told with very few characters and cast members. Anita Dobson's Klint and Hayley Atwell's Asha spend most of the episode in their own two handed story naively misunderstanding the Dalek's intentions; both are very good with Atwell (who played Rosa in the BBC's recent adaptation of The Ruby and the Smoke) in particular showing an authority that'll become really important across the story. The other major character is skeptic Tom Cardwell, played dependably by Kenneth Cranham, whose guttural tones provided the sad background to the colony's problems.

It's with some relief that I can report that this is a good an opening for a new incarnation of Doctor Who the franchise as you'd want and even if, and I hope this doesn't give too much away for those who are listening again or waiting for the cd, the story isn't as original as it could be, for me the familiarity works in its favour since for much of the time it works against expectations. Even with its slightly generic music, like The Runaway Bride, this has been put together with real heart and an ambition to push the franchise forward, and I'm really looking forward to the rest of the series.

Oh and look - a real old fashioned cliffhanger!

Review 2006: Finale

Lisa asks:
Which famous 5 people, dead or alive, would you invite to a dinner party. What would you eat/drink ? What entertainment would you lay on for the 6 of you afterwards?

That's a bit of poisoned chalice isn't it? I mean there I am trying to think my way through everyone whose ever lived ever and whoever I pick there's sure to be someone saying: 'What? You'd rather spend an evening with Alexander Graham Bell and Debbie Harry when you could have had dinner with Gershwin and Donna Summer? There are also the smart answers like all of my friends, the cast of Friends, The Beatles plus one (not Yoko) or The Comedy Store Players.

In an attempt to finally drag this Review 2006 back into the realm of being a Review of 2006 and to put some limits on my choices, I'm going to pick five people, a meal and entertainment that have had some relevance to my life in the past twelve months with the added restriction of not including anyone I actually know, and that includes email correspondence (just so that no one and everybody feels left out). Here's then who'll be at my imaginary New Year's Eve party.

First to arrive might be old school Hollywood screenwriter Robert Riskin. Earlier in the year during my film course I selected an essay question which at its heart talked about auteur theory and particularly the extent to which director Frank Capra's style was defined through his own personal choices, by the types of stories he was making or his collaborators - actors, producers, production designers and in this case screenwriters. His main collaborator throughout the majority of his career was Riskin and although it was Capra's name was above the title in such works as Mr. Deeds Goes To Town and American Madness it was Riskin who was the engine and looking over the printed versions of his scripts, very often the stylistic devices and storytelling quirks were Riskin through and through, the populist small everyperson making it big being the primary example, but also the repeated device of what looks like a downer ending becoming somewhat good by the end, but with not necessarily every character issue being resolved.

The complication lies in the fact that once Capra and Riskin parted, those same devices still cropped up to the extent that one of Riskin's first films with a different director Magic Town feels like a Capra film even though it was directed by a jobbing studio director without the same cache (William Wendell). It's a reverse of the Mr. Smith Goes To Washington model, with Jimmy Stewart as a city slicker and pollster going into and falling for a small town that is apparently statistically perfect. The authorship of the film is . . . obscured but what I would want to ask Riskin is how close their collaboration was and if in fact he should, like I presume many screenwriters, have taken more of the glory at the time than he did.

But Riskin, despite what you would expect, was a bit of a party animal and although he almost always got the job done he had something of a reputation for the booze. The man had a personality too. Apparently, after the falling out over the nightmare that became Meet John Doe (for which Capra could never decide on an ending) he waved a blank piece of paper in Capra's face and said: "Put the famous Capra touch on that!". He was also, let's not forget, married to Fay Wray for thirteen years and also worked on Broadway during one of the golden periods so he had some kind of an exciting life.

Assuming she can find the time, I'd next invite singer Madeleine Peyroux in from the cold. I was given her 2004 album Careless Love last Christmas and it kept me company during the long wintry university commuting. I mentioned on the blog that some of the tracks sound like Christmas morning and they still do and express that feeling of excitement then melancholy that its all over for another year. I bought her first album 'Dreamland' recently and although its stylistically different, her voice still had that well worn quality, the haunting sound of a life lived. She was like the gateway drug to other jazz and blues music and here I am months later listening to Diana Krall, Stacy Kent and Nina Simone.

Even through we're the same age, her life couldn't have been any more different. Born in Athens to what she once described as hippy parents. After moving to New York with them, after they divorced her Mother took her to Paris were she was discovered at the age of fifteen, joined a band and was touring Europe at about the time I was trying to get my head around quadratic equations in Mr Singer's GCSE maths class. In 1996, the year I graduated from university first time around her brilliant first album Dreamland was released to such critical acclaim and was apparently a massive hit at the time but she didn't want to deal with any of that. So she returned to Paris and went busking again, giving the odd café gig under an assumed name.

Another album came in 2003, a collaboration with her ex-boyfriend that went sour, the results of which are is still going through the courts and in 2005 she disappeared again - that was my introduction to her - seeing a report on BBC News in which her record company were essentially putting an appeal out for her whereabouts. She turned up not that long afterwards hiding back in New York and of late she's been on tour in the UK. I missed her concert at The Phil after a range of calamities related to me not knowing in time, so it would be nice to see her at the table next to Riskin so that I could pull a Christmas cracker with her and suggest a few ideas for her next album. I'd love to hear what she'd do with Daniel Johnson's Come See Me Tonight.

A few minutes later, Tim Berners-Leecredited inventor of the World Wide Web should arrive. It seems only right that I should be able to give a drink to the man who created the medium through which I'm posting this, especially since having designed it, he made the technology and methods freely available for other people to make lots of money. It's funny to think that I began my undergraduate degree at university just two years after the first web page went online and by the third year I was already writing my first report about how search engines work (the original Webcrawler and Excite!)

He also developed the first hypertext systems (the term was coined by Ted Nelson who I've already met), which is the other reason for his invite because he indirectly led to my dissertation topic over the summer, defining Hyperlink cinema as a genre. After watching many, many films and reading many, many books I eventually came to the conclusion that actually there might be a genre, but that it was big enough a topic that it could never be resolved in the fifteen thousand or so words I was given to attempt an answer so for me it remains unresolved. For the uninitiated, you can usually tell a hyperlink film if there are multiple storylines in multiple locations about a diverse set of characters. So Short Cuts is but Parenthood isn't and neither is 21 Grams if you actually bother to pay attention to the story being told.

When Elizabeth I steps across the threshold, she's not what I expect although I didn't know what I was expecting. The problem with historical figures is that our image of them is developed from numerous books, documentaries, paintings and films. It's difficult for me not to think of Elizabeth I as being like Glenda Jackson or Cate Blanchett or Mary Anne Duff or even Helen Mirren when those were all interpretations of a real figure who is nothing like any of them or somewhere in between. The version visiting is still so young though and the Spanish Armada is a few years in the future so she's yet to really prove her worth to a people who it is my impression venerate her as the Gloriana but still have their doubts.

Of all the historical figures I've encountered this year, it's Bess whose made the biggest impression both through catching up on various films and dramas and Simon Schama's summary of her life in A History of Britain. It's probably a weird comparison, but like Madeleine she was an independent woman but had to make many, many sacrifices in the name of her country. Although history has cast doubt on whether she was truly a Virgin Queen, more than many monarchs of the period she had to make so many decisions in relation to state and family that the emotional toll would be enormous.

I supposed I would want to invite her in order to see through the pop culture references to see what the real woman was like. You can never imagine royalty as people like us even when they're doing fallible things. Would she enter with the regality intact and impeccable behavior or take the opportunity to relax at least for this one night? Perhaps I've got Miranda Richardson in mind when I imagine her waking up on New Years Day with a splitting headache in a Shakespeare's Globe t-shirt having spilt red wine down the front of her dress, moaning that she's got to go back to court and can't face the look on Burley's face when he realises what she's been up to.

If Douglas Adams arrives late I can't blame him. In a terrific piece of bad timing, he's writing The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy at the same time as script editing Doctor Who. He looks harished and could probably do with a night off. I saw Adams for the first time this year giving one of the best pissed night out stories ever in which he and a friend went to Paris uninvited during the filming of my favour classic Who story City of Death. They drank their way around the city until everywhere had closed and then tried catch a flight to Berlin because they knew of another bar that might still be open there. I'd invite him just hear that story again, and also so that this younger version of him can hear Tim describe what'll be happening with the internet in his future.

Frankly, Douglas is still missed and it's such a shame that he wasn't here to see the Wikipedia which is probably exactly what he expected the h2g2 website to become even though that never gained the same currency globally. It would seem strange if a proportion of the contributors to the Wikipedia didn't have Hitchhikers at the back of their minds, this opportunity to create store of knowledge, usable by anyone, telling the story of everything. The media spends far too much time criticizing its accuracy when really it should be praising the fact that its now possible to find a reasonably comprehensible description of most subjects, which, and this is important, can be corrected instantly if needed. It's proved invaluable during the writing of this article, if only to get a sense of the people.

My big food discoveries this year were musaka and jambalaya and I'd definitely serve these for dinner, along with choices of Caesar salad, chicken in breadcrumbs and chili con carne (calling ahead before hand to check if anyone was a vegetarian or didn't like spicy food). For starters I'd have tomato soup made from scratch with real tomatoes and close with a choice of mince pies or Christmas pud. I'd do my usual with the wine - visit OddBins and pick something with a colourful looking label (which even though I know nothing about wine seems to work most of the time) but I'd also offer choices of water and fruit juices. Unless anyone wants a beer (in which case, oh yes, again, I'd call ahead).

For the closing entertainment, I'd ask my guests to all pick some songs and cds, bank them up on an ipod and we'd play Trivial Pursuit to the small hours or until we got bored with not being able to answer the questions. Bob and I should be good with the film questions, Tim and Douglas with the technology, Madeleine with the music and Liz with the history questions (since miraculously none of them would be about anything before the 1580s). I suspect it would be a great leveler and like Glenn Gould once said (I'm paraphrasing) you can really get to know more about a person by asking them about subject for which they're not famous.

And as the dawn came we'd sit on the balcony of my flat and wait for the new day.

Happy New Year!

Schott's Results.

TV You might remember this time last year in a fit of holiday sadness I emailed Schott's Almanac about the errors in their 2006 edition. For the three people who care, I thought I'd post this from the Errata to the 2007 edition which may suggest I wasn't the only one ... kind of comforting in a way ...

Review 2006

Billy asks:
Would you stop writing your blog if your stats told you there were 0 readers?

Of course I would.

When I began writing the blog, five and a half years ago now, I didn't have any readers. I don't think anyone was looking in for months and if they were it was from Google. It's a shame because I still think that was when the blog was its best, when I seemed to have much more to write about and the cynicism hadn't really set in yet.

I was a much more promiscuous linker back then, with a feature in which I highlighted another blog each day, the backlinks for which I'm sure drew some readers and I think you just gain them through search engines because people find you and like what you're doing. But I don't think that at any point have I really gone after a particular audience. Primarily this is like a textual scrapbook, a place to keep a record of who I am each day or week and I'm not sure I could give it up even if no one was reading.

I love that I can look at some random week, say in mid-July 2003, when I was mostly kvetching about Big Brother and the government, both subjects I've given up worrying about. I wish I was able to do that with my whole life, seeing what the version of me at fourteen really had on his mind. I would have probably been talking about Kylie Minogue, getting annoyed with the sheer badness of the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, studying Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and complaining about how poor the films were that year. Things haven't changed that much then.

That said, although I'd like to say that none of this was about you, plainly it is. I do wonder who is reading and find it quite bizarre that I'm not sure exactly what my circulation is. Although site meter says that this week the blog had over a thousand hits, all the referrer logs seems to list are google searches. Bloglines shows thirty-one subscribers but how many of them read the blog and just haven't gotten around to deleting it? Just how many readers do I have?

Review 2006

Neil from Behind The Sofa asks:
Why is Doctor Who so disappointing all of a sudden? Is it down to age?

In two thousand and two when the prospect of a new television series looked completely impossible, I decided that someone needed to do something and after watching the film Jerry Maguire late one night sat down to write a mission statement, what I thought would be the model to follow if ever anyone decided to produce a new series. I looked at the kinds of drama series that were in production but also wanted to reflect somewhat the novels I'd been reading and the audios I'd been listening to. From April 2002 then:
A vision for the future of television Doctor Who:

Main Characters: The Doctor; Female companion; The TARDIS
Familiarity. Turn on your average post-Troughton story this is your set up. The companion explores the problem at hand, The Doctor explains and solves it. The average viewer isn't expecting three 'teenagers' and a robot. Better to give depth to one companion than to have two or three ciphers.

Six one hour episodes.
Clarity, attention span, budget. With judicious and careful editing most tv Who stories could be told in an hour - the audio version of Genesis of the Daleks which crams six episodes onto long play record proves this. Yes, it's nice to see Tom and Lalla running around Paris in City of Death but it doesn't exactly drive the plot forward does it? If Buffy can do it, so can 'Who'.

First episode - Cybermen. Last episode - Daleks (with cliffhanger ending)
Nice and familiar. Monsters, and monsters the public have heard of. Could redesign the Cybermen a bit, but keep the Daleks as pepper pots (that's half their appeal). Daleks in last episode not first so as not to show all your good cards.

In between, The Doctor takes his companion to see the first civilisations (Stonehenge, Ancient Egypt, even earlier) and the end of time (last surviving human, aliens trading the last human DNA remains). Episode set on a strange alien planet, episode on a starship.
The Hartnell era might be a good pattern to follow. So two sci-fi, one quasi-historical, one pure historical. Random order. I'd have the historical as episode two, sci-fi three, then follow in The Time Meddlers footsteps and sell the quasi-historical initially as a historical. Then Sci-Fi, then that Dalek story. Returns the show to unpredictability; the TARDIS guidance circuits have malfunctioned so he doesn't know (and therefore we don't know) where he'll end up next (that's real adventure isn't it?). Historicals potentially an easier sell now alongside the monster stories because the BBC are still so good at them.

Ignore continuity references, but don't contradict anything too much.
Base everything on what the general public probably knows - yes, we know The Doctor is a Timelord, but do we need some boring old episode on Gallifrey to prove the point? Only exposition relating to plot at hand then, and make the stories self contained. No need to keep referring back to 'the canon' all the time, but don't contract it. That way the old fans will be content that this isn't a re-boot, but the new fans won't start turning off in their droves when it becomes clear that they should have seen half a dozen old stories and read four novels to make the present story at all comprehensible (Attack of the Cybermen - aaaaaaaaaah!)

No romance, but lots of flirting.
See Pertwee and Jo Grant; Tom Baker and everyone (apart from Harry); whilst I personally had no problem with 'that kiss' this is a family show.

Family show, but scary enough to need a sofa
Everyone says they hid behind the sofa. Nothing wrong here - scary monsters and cartoon violence. But keep to the model of The Doctor using his mind to outwit his opponents.
Most that is common sense stuff but I'm still amazed, excited and pleased at how closely the new series matches my expectations. But for some reason during the second series, I began to find faults and cracks and although I was mostly loving some of the episodes I kept having a nagging feeling that I wasn't enjoying the series as much as I could be.

Before listing what these reservations are I do want to drop in some caveats. In no way is this supposed to be a 'the problem with Doctor Who article in the same vein as the Torchwood analysis I recently published. In relation to performances and production and direction it's as good as we could possibly have expected and it's amazing that you can now see kids in Forbidden Planet getting excited over a copy of Murray Gold's soundtrack, attempting to convince their parents to invest because it comes with a free badge. I loved the latest special The Runaway Bride and watching the special documentary on Christmas Day I had a lump in my throat.

I love the Tenth Doctor. David Tennant, being a fan himself, his performance is a believable amalgam of the previous nine and yet has still brought his own indefinable magic, which is backed up with writing that makes him thoroughly likeable. Author Paul Magrs has said: 'I was always pleased when the Doctor was content to blunder into things, let himself meet fabulous characters in that sweetly picaresque eighteenth century way of his' - he was describing the Eighth Doctor (the Paul McGann incarnation) but that's entirely true of Tenth, that carefree attitude that can switch to seriousness at a moments notice. Some have criticized the pop culture references, the Ghostbusters moment being particular dislikes, and some of the smugness, but above all the man is heroic and precisely what the drama needs.

The treatment of the companion has improved too and that's definitely a legacy of the spin-off culture. Rose Tyler had a life, a back story and a developing personality that effected her reaction to each adventure, changing more than just her costume across the seasons. This simply didn't happen before - Nyssa lost her family and home planet but this was hardly remarked upon again, at least not in an emotional way. Indeed companions would often join and leave in the most random of circumstances when the actors contract was up for renewal and often in stories that had little or nothing to do with their passing. The final episode of the last series, Doomsday was pinioned around the loss of Rose, written that way because the only way to split those two up convincingly was to stick them in different universes.

Like the first, that second series also brought some classic stories as good as anything the franchise has produced in any medium. No one saw The Girl In The Fireplace coming, distilling everything that's oddball and goofy about the concept whilst and the same time injecting passion and sadness. The story of the Doctor saving Madame de Pompadour, the French courtesan from clockwork men from the future using windows in time from a spaceship lacked the one line synopsis that most stories are dogged by but still managed to be exciting accessible entertainment. When the Doctor's heart was broken at the end, you felt it was because of the underplaying - he'd met someone who seemed to understand him but she was lost in time. It wasn't like the loss of Rose later in the series; they were friends but never equals in the same way that Reinette could be.

The problem with the second series is that these kinds of unresolved emotional arcs that cut the Doctor to the core were fewer than in the first series when the Ninth Doctor was at the centre. The Chris Eccleston model was still getting over the effects of the destruction of his home planet and as the season wore on it became apparent that a time war with the Daleks had led him to doing the deed himself. What this meant was that every story was personal; from trying to save the Gelth in The Unquiet Dead to fighting to save everyone in The Empty Child ('Just this time Rose, everybody lives!') each story had his struggle with guilt at the core and was about him dealing with being the only survivor of his race. In the second series, that guilt has lifted and so when he tries to deal with the problem at hand it's out of the goodness of his heart, his moral duty to protect the innocent.

But, and this is a big BUT, this has meant that there has been a move towards attempting to shoehorn in the sentiment to the extent that every story apparently needs to have an emotional crescendo. In some cases that really works - in Fireplace or School Reunion (and to a lesser extent The Runaway Bride), mainly because those are about the Doctor and his feelings. In the very worst cases, Fear Her for example, there are about three climaxes and there is a law of diminishing returns so that by the time the Doctor is lighting the Olympic flame it's just too much. Such climaxes are also drowned in music and in a Hollywood sense the chords are telling the audience how they should feel which can make some of us feel a bit disgruntled.

The other big problem is that given that the main characters have a time machine that can go anywhere in history or the cosmos, the broadcast adventures seem to spend a lot of time in London in the suburbs in the twentieth or twenty-first century, something that hadn't occurred to Davies until journalist Ben Cook mentioned it to him in an interview for Doctor Who Magazine. Much as I loved the latest Christmas episode, it's a shame they didn't take the opportunity to set it in some far future Christmas. Is (almost) present day Earth to be invaded every 25th December for as long as there are specials?

Elsewhere Davies has mentioned how impressed he is that at the dawn of the series, the Doctor and co would find themselves in a vast range of locations all of which were achieved on a very tiny budget, but for some reason, that hasn't been reflected in the new series, with the various comic strips and novels doing the really wacky experimental things instead (Love & Monsters a tale told from the point of view of a fan of the Doctor accepted). In short, why no pure historicals which are just about the Doctor plus one and the Police Box lost in history?

In 1999, Doctor Who Magazine asked a group of writers who were fans of Doctor Who what they thought the new series would be like. It's become a bit of a legend because they somehow managed to pick on Russell T Davies, Paul Cornell, Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat and Gareth Roberts, all of whom would go on to write for the new series in some capacity (the other was Lance Parkin who hasn't yet been tapped despite having tv experience although it's rumoured he was asked but couldn't due to other commitments). At the end of the interview there are two telling quotes. When asked for final thoughts, Moffat says that 'the way you'd know you'd got it right would be if the 11-year-olds all jumped up and down and said it was the best show ever and all the sadder Doctor Who fans muttered that it was no longer serious adult drama like it was when they were 11.' Which is exactly what has happened. Seeing the kids at the Doctor Who Concert goggle eyed but genuinely happy to see all of the monsters and David and the clips from the episodes proves that actually so long as they're happy, that's ok.

All of these grumbles seem like small issues, all artistic choices reflecting the tastes of the current production team. That's always been the way of things with the franchise, each producer or editor having their own idea of what it should be and what it should be about and that's why we love it - none of it looks or sounds the same. The brief was about bringing the series back and making it as accessible by as wide an audience as possible and here we are looking forward to a third series, a rating success all round against stiff competition. The general audience expects a big emotional punch and the domesticity is born from a need to produce a series that reflects people's lives. They're never going to please everyone least of all us fans all of the time, but as the kid in Forbidden Planet being excited about the cd proves, it's not really about us. The final quote in that roundtable is actually from Davies himself and reflects actually how seriously he understood the undertaking: "God help anyone in charge of bringing it back - what a responsibility!"

Review 2006

Kate asks:
Do you think any of the cultural stereotypes about English people are true?

The Misterpoll website has a quiz which attempts to demonstrate how the stereotypes seen in popular culture differ from actuality. Within they actually list the expectations of the stereotype. It's quite shocking to see your entire culture reduced to nine bullet points, and perhaps even more shocking to see how many are actually true.

Drinking tea We do drink an awful lot of tea. Although Starbucks (bless them) and other coffee chains have run riot through all of our city centres making them all look like mini-Seattles, I don't think it's possible to go anywhere without being offered a tea and I'm even drinking a cup right now. I probably go through about three a day and I've never really known why - it doesn't taste that good. But it's warm and brown and it doesn't give you bad breath like coffee. I don't think many people take 'high tea' any more, but when I was working at an art gallery we did have a tea break in the morning and afternoon which felt very civilized and it was the first time I learnt the wonders of warming the mug or pot first.

Wearing bowler (derby) hats I have never seen anyone wearing a bowler hat in the wild. I don't even remember being in a shop that sells them. Most of anything I see around are woolen hats, caps and the kind of fisherman's friend my Dad favours.

Carrying umbrellas Oh yes, everyone carries umbrellas. I think. But not the big black ones you're expecting. Sometimes the golf umbrellas. Mostly they're the ones that fold up and you can keep in your bag. Every job I've had in my career has involved trying to avoid the umbrellas in a doorway, opened out and drying, which I was always told as a child was bad luck.

Talking about the weather Given that I somehow managed to spend a whole question during this obviously misdescribed Review 2006 talking about the weather somewhat proves that it's a national pastime and actually there isn't all that much wrong with that. It's an ice breaker, it's something total strangers have in common and everyone is an expert. And always remember that if it's a rainy day, people will complain but paradoxically they'll also complain if it's just too sunny. People like to talk and it gives them something to talk about. Perhaps Douglas Adams was right, if we do ever stop talking, our brains will seize up.

Speaking in rhyming slang I would say that's a cultural stereotype which is local to London but given that you never see people using it too often in documentaries about the place, I'd say it's only really perpetuated in Guy Ritchie films.

Crooking their little finger when drinking It happens. I think I even do it, although my little finger is slightly crooked and won't bend properly when I do anything. It just sort of hangs there when I type. I just thought everyone did this.

Drinking warm beer That's a stereotype? I don't drink much beer so I can't really comment, although I'd imagine that people go chilled if they can. There is a pub in Liverpool city centre whose chillers never work properly and their beer is always warm. Does that count?

Rioting over soccer Not as much as they used to but it's still prevalent, if not endemic. It does seem to be self perpetuating though. Often with British fans travel abroad, security is stepped up because of the reputation, which means that sometimes there is overkill which can lead to retaliation if too much booze has been drunk. Sometimes I suspect that if the police in these areas weren't expecting a fight, there wouldn't be one.

Queueing The British love to queue. In the January Sales there were massive queues within most stores and its amazing how patient people were being. I did notice that sometimes they were going out their way to queue. In HMV for example, people were simply going to the main bank and there were smaller satellite tills, in the classical music section for example, that were being completely ignored. I suppose the most exciting queue I ever saw happened with Jacqueline Wilson was signing at the WH Smiths and people stood all of the way up Church Street and nearly onto Bold Street.

Being spanked I've looked at this back and forth and I really can't decide on the context. I'm guessing it isn't a sexual thing, but that that pat on the behind that was memorably a plot point in an episode of Friends in which case, oh no. It would lead to much punching.

There were some items missing on that list which I was really expecting, but luckily the wikipedia has filled in the gap:

The English people are stereotyped as being extremely proper, prudish, and stiff with bad teeth. Running my tongue across my molars I can sadly concur with the final item, but given all of the rumpus about binge drinking amongst women and everything else, I think you can actually say the rest is true of British people anymore. It's a generational thing, and people my age and younger do appear to be a lot more . . . relaxed. But, I suppose, it also depends on the social class you're from. Sex and swearing are no longer taboos.

So most of these stereotypes are true, which about what you should expect. That's the point with stereotypes. There is always a ring of truth about them...

Ready for a fall

Meme Mp3 player on random, fill in the track details and ...

Waking Up: Pat Benetar - Love is a Battlefield
First Day at School: Loyko - Djelem
Falling In Love: Sarah McLachlan - Dirty Little Secret
Fight Song: John Martyn - Go Down Easy
Breaking Up: Rosemary Clooney - Me and My Teddy Bear
Prom: Tori Amos - Rattlesnakes
Life: PJ Olsson - Ready For A Fall
Mental Breakdown: Liberty X - No Clouds
Driving: Paula Cole - Carmen
Flashback: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - K621.1 Overture La Clemenza Di Tito
Wedding: Rainbow - I surrender
Birth of Child: The Beach Boys - Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)
Final Battle: Gavin Byars With Tom Waits - Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet (Excerpt)
Death Scene: Martika - Temptation
Funeral Song: Crash Test Dummies - How Does A Duck Know?
End Credit: Fleetwood Mac - Albatross


Under Torch Wood

TV A parody for voices:

"FIRST VOICE The Rift is a kind of hellmouth that is sucking on a transcendental, transdimensional gobstopper. It is a double-egg MacGuffin served with large flies. It is

SECOND VOICE an easy way for lazy writers to generate indulgence-straining plots, without ever troubling to think up anything new, or plausible, or to know or look up any science."

Priceless stuff and unbelievably harsh. [via]


That Day Christmas was quiet which is the way I like it. After such a busy year (again) it's been nice just to let the festive season wash over me, the music, the smells, the happiness. I was spoiled again with a new scanner (hp scanjet 2400), an almost complete set of The Movie: Illustrated History of the Cinema (an old part magazine) and a remote controlled Dalek (cue The Go-Gos) - it's at times like this I wish I had a pet so that I could bother them with it. Mum and Dad liked their CrockPot Slow Cooker although the best reaction was from my mum for this cd which I think brought back memories from their time visting the Folk Clubs of Liverpool. As usual the day went far quickly than I'd like, The Queen's Speech arriving far too quickly and then the roll down to Doctor Who (which was particularly special this year -- wasn't Catherine Tate good?). Thanks for asking Suw, hope you had a good one too. Glad you've got your mobile back.

Review 2006

Neil of Tachyon TV asks:
BBC4 have just given you carte blanche to create your own TV evening from 7pm-2am. What do you show and why?

Click the picture to see a bigger version.

I've simply tried to create a schedule of programmes which I would really like to watch. There isn't a regular tv music strand covering a range of music from pop to classical and everything in between. I've never seen an in-depth documentary about my favourite Shakespeare play or anything that lists the lid on the tricks of science programme makers. The Spanish Apartment is a great film that no one has seen (largely because it was saddled with the even less interesting title Pot Luck in this country) and Northern Soul is a tv show I tried writing myself years ago. And why isn't After Dark still on the screen wrestling with these big issues? The other thing is self explanatory.