'Each episode, he gets uglier. It's amazing.'

TV It isn't just some of us. The view from a livejournaler: "Okay, so much anger. This is why most of the time, I really rather hate Torchwood. I don't ... actively hate anything. I don't hate Torchwood, really, because I'm watching. It isn't really hate, & I can't be arsed to gather evidence so that it can morph into h8. I just get upset that it doesn't live up to its full potential."

Links for 2007-01-05 [del.icio.us] - Rmail

  • Art In Liverpool Blog: National Museums Liverpool - Highlights for 2007
    Many great things to look forward to -- can't wait to the new Sudley and the Josh Kirby exhibition!
  • Girl with a one-track mind: Three
    Abby Lee tells the story of being outed by The Sunday Times. The email they sent her is awfully squalid -- particularly the bit about the photo shoot ...
    In which I report on the return of a much loved brand.
  • Best livejournal post about 'Torchwood' eva!
    "Oh, and Owen beats the Doctor out on looking like a rodent. I love him, but he's the ugliest thing I've seen in a long while. Each episode, he gets uglier. It's amazing."
  • (enough. enough now.)

    Meme 1. What did you do in 2006 that you?d never done before?

    2. Did you keep your new years? resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
    I did, and I did not that anything came of it as usual (falling in love if you must know). Being offline more. As you can see I'm really keeping to it.

    3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

    4. Did anyone close to you die?
    My Dad's brother-in-law on New Year's Eve.

    5. What countries did you visit?

    6. What would you like to have in 2007 that you lacked in 2006?
    A job.

    7. What date from 2006 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
    Graduation day. Obvious reason.

    8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
    Graduated. Also managed to save up enough money to buy this. I have odd priorities.

    9. What was your biggest failure?
    Really there isn't enough memory in Blogger's own hard disks.

    10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
    I banged my thumb with a hammer the other day putting up a picture.

    11. What was the best thing you bought?
    My coffee maker.

    12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
    Film Four for going free to view.

    13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
    Katie Holmes.

    14. Where did most of your money go?
    Dvds, predictably.

    15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
    The final mark for my dissertation.

    16. What song will always remind you of 2006?
    'Feels like Heaven To Me' -- Madeleine Peyroux

    17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
    happier or sadder? Happier.
    thinner or fatter? The same.
    richer or poorer? Poorer.

    18. What do you wish you?d done more of?

    19. What do you wish you?d done less of?
    Doing nothing.

    20. What was your favorite TV program?
    Reruns of The West Wing.

    21. Do you dislike anyone now that you didn?t dislike this time last year?
    Tom Cruise.

    22. What was the best book you read?
    The Scarlett Empress by Paul Magrs.

    23. What was your greatest musical discovery?
    Madeleine Peyroux, Diana Krall, that crowd.

    24. What did you want and get?
    New experiences.

    26. What was your favorite film of this year?
    The Russian Dolls to be honest.

    27. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
    I was 32. Went to Manchester (I think).

    28. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
    Less travelling.

    29. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2006?
    White t-shirt and jeans. It's easy.

    30. What kept you sane?
    This blog.

    31. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
    Rosario Dawson. Although Sophia Myles did make me catch my breath.

    32. What political issue stirred you the most?
    Most of anything really. Can no one get this stuff right?

    33. Who did you miss?
    You. You know who you are.

    34. Who was the best new person you met?
    You too. You know who you are.

    35. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2006?
    Be yoself, no matter where you go.

    36. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
    "I say to myself
    Self, why are you awake again? It's one a.m.
    Standing with the fridge wide open, staring
    Such a sight, florescent light
    The stars are bright
    Might make a wish, if I believed in that shit but
    As it is, I might watch TV
    Cause it's nice to see people more messed up than me
    I say to myself, as I smile at the wall, just let myself fall

    It's gonna be all right, no matter what they say
    It's gonna be a good day, just wait and see
    It's gonna be alright, cause I'm alright with me
    It's gonna be, it's gonna be, it's gotta be"
    -- 'Good Day' by Jewel Kilcher


    As Columbo would say ...

    Review 2006 Just one more thing. Every year I post my predictions for the upcoming twelve months and look back to see how wrong I was the previous year.

    Something shockingly surprising happens in Doctor Who which no one saw coming.
    I think the arrival of Catherine Tate at the end of the series certainly qualifies. No one saw that coming. Torchwood not being very good runs a close second.

    The US goes to war with another country without any international support, particularly the UK.
    Not yet. They've been looking over Iran's shoulder a lot, but the Iraq situation just keeps getting worse and with the promise of even more US troops, I suspect they they don't want to stretch themselves, thank goodness.

    A cheap usable text equivalent of the ipod will be released and will be wifi compatible giving access to the internet and texts, wherever whenever.
    Not yet. Although wifi is certainly increasing in popularity. They're proposing a cloud over Liverpool.

    The ban on smoking in public places will tip the habit into terminal, steady decline.
    The ban is coming in July with beer gardens being converted throughout the land.

    My life is going to change in a big way.
    Well I graduated from my course. Still looking for a job though. But I'd sat that was a biggish change.

    I'd say that was two out of five which is worse than last year, but then I did make the predictions fairly broad. For next year then, future version of me...

    Bush forced to resign.

    Blockbusters become less solvent. An increase in the popularity of art house type products. It'll be like the 1970s!

    People will watch even less television in a pronounced way.

    There will be a very unlikely celebrity marriage.

    My life is going to change in a big way. Again.

    “I can assure you this worked perfectly in rehearsal”

    TV It’s somewhat exciting to see Tomorrow’s World being used to highlight BBC’s technology reporting at the top of a BBC press release. Despite the parodying of Look Around You and the messing about with the format in later years, I still think of it fondly as it was the cornerstone of my viewing when I was growing up and really did seem like a weekly window into the future. As this wikipedia entry shows, they were often really, really accurate. TV Cream has a history of the show, with pictures.

    It’s a shame then that it isn’t to return as a weekly programme, but as a cross-platform brand on radio, online and of course television, predominantly in BBC News. Presumably whenever a new technology story is being presented, up will pop the familiar logo – whatever one that was – and perhaps that video of the baby swimming under water (which can be downloaded as a screensaver, complete with old rainbow BBC logo, here). To this day I’m convinced that was the inspiration for the Nirvana Nevermind album cover.

    The pleasant surprise is that Maggie Philbin is being brought back into service as the face of the new version of the franchise, presenting the stories and “on hand to offer analysis and extra detail”. The presumed candidate would have been someone like Kate Humble or Adam Hart-Davies who presented the original show up to its cancellation in 2002. This does give the enterprise a bit of authority through seniority and after seeing Maggie on the Swap Shop nostalgia trip last week it’ll be nice to see her on television a bit more regularly again. Perhaps if this takes off, Judith Hann, Howard Stapleford and Phillipa Forrester will also be recalled into active duty.

    Philbin’s first appearance will be on BBC Breakfast on Monday 8 January.

    What more?

    Review 2006 Gratefully, just before Christmas I was asked to contribute to Off The Telly's television review of 2006. Ian Jones has collected together the material and it's a peach of an article, filled with programmes I'd missed or forgotten about. I happened to go mad and write far more than could be used, so I've decided, to present the deleted scenes here. Sorry for any repeats. Let's just call them 'another chance to see' shall we?

    One of the highlight's of the year was certainly BBC Four's Silent Cinema season and its keystone Paul Merton's Silent Clowns in which the comedian passionately reinvigorated the reputations of Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, Laurel and Hardy. Taking a deceptively analytical approach, Merton described the mechanics of jokes, the use of music, editing and timing, illuminating some forgotten masterpieces, interviewing such luminaries as Bond stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong and Python Terry Jones who were given space to share Merton's enthusiasm. Perhaps the biggest joy was that having explained why he loves each comedian, an example of their work was included within the body of the programme usually restored and always with a new sympathetic soundtrack from his collaborator, composer Neil Brand.

    Another success from the BBC's documentary department was the excellent and educational Balderdash and Piffle. Ace poker player, columnist and daughter of Alan, Victoria Coren flounced with purpose about Oxford trying to convince the curmudgeonly keepers of the dictionary that the earlier appearance of Ska sent in by a viewer was better than the one they had. The clever inclusion of celebrities and others in mini-documentaries about each word doing things which we wouldn't ordinarily see them do meant that none of the shows were actually dull, the high point being the oddly poignant New Orleans visit by Jerry Hall recorded before the floods.

    Simon Amstall has reinvigorated Never Mind The Buzzcocks with the kind of clever wit he brought to Popworld but with a much edgier tone in keeping with the later timeslot, demolishing television stalwarts such as Penny Smith and Bill Oddie left right and centre. The genius of sitting Lily Allen and Jamelia opposite one another, two of the bitchiest popstrells currently in the charts was magic.

    Whilst some would suggest (including me) that this year's series of Doctor Who was less potent without the reliance on mythology it did bring the magnificent Steven Moffat penned episode The Girl In The Fireplace which, with its postmodern mix of outer space and historical settings was as good as the show has ever been. Sophia Myles as Madam de Pomadour pulled off the miracle of convincing us that The Doctor would fall in love with her so quickly, and Neil Gorton's production design on the creatures, particular in their bald clockwork state was breathtaking. David Tennant was another excellent choice to play the Doctor, bringing all of the brilliant madness the part requires and Billie Piper's Rose will really be missed.

    Life of Mars came from nowhere and threw everyone of their step, most of all me as I realised that whole scenes were being filmed in and around Manchester University in places I was actually going for lectures.

    Danny Wallace's humorous How To Start Your Own Country was in the end a particularly sobering account of the decisions a government has to take about its citizens. The premise was hardly stock - man decides to turn his flat into a private country - and cleverly, rather than presenting a chronological journey, Wallace tackled each theme in turn, often with surprising methodology, such as actually going to the UN and unsuccessfully seeking diplomatic status. The real innovation was the live show, Citizen TV, that appeared only to interactive viewers in which some of the themes of the preceding programme were discussed and Wallace's endeavor became a public phenomena culminating in a naming ceremony in Leicester Square giving Ian Lee, late of RI:SE his first presenting gig in ages.

    And my surprise of the year ?

    Not Going Out, the BBC One sitcom scripted by Lee Mack and Andrew Collins received some bizarrely mixed (pre)reviews from a couple of raves to notices which seem to have been written by people who don't like television period. I went in with an open mind and fingers crossed. And you know, given all that, I loved it. The premise is refreshingly simple. Lee and Kate share a flat, he's a bit of a bloke, she's a bit of an American and they both know this other bloke Tim, because he's Lee's friend and Kate's ex-boyfriend (he dumped her). And err... that's it. In an industry that increasingly relies on high-concepts, it's lovely to see a British sitcom that strips everything away to the important essentials -- the characters.

    The performances were very fine too. Lee Mack and Tim Vine previously worked together in ITV's late night sketch comedy experiment The Sketch Show and presented real chemistry in the scenes in which their characters propped up the bar and reflected on their differing relationship with Kate. In the middle, majestic Megan Dodds in her first television sitcom role proves that her scene stealing turn in Spooks wasn't a blip. Her timing was excellent particularly in the aftermath of a water spillage. Sometimes sitcom acting can detour too far away from anything like realism, but here the work was perfectly measured and in places touchingly dramatic.

    Across the six episodes it has to be said that some well worn storylines were trotted out, from the flatmates having to pretend to be a couple to the successful blind date but as with the best sitcoms this was sidestepped with some blisteringly good if traditional execution. I'm pleased to say that for the first time in some time, there waa British sitcom worth watching on a main channel that isn't by Ricky Gervais. Not Going Out somehow managed to straddle the mainstream and not so mainstream and I'm sure that the harsher reviews were too quick to dismiss it because of the supposedly unfashionable elements of a studio and multi-camera setup instead of taking pleasure in the script and performances. The best measure of any sitcom is whether it makes you laugh and I did, all the way through.


    The Lost Gospels Now and then BBC Four has wobbles and late in the year, The Lost Gospels an exploration of the books that didn't make the bible was one of them. Presenter/Anglican priest Pete Owen Jones, a sub-Michael Wood figure aimlessly drifted across Europe using the kind of voice over filled with words but little actual content teasing the audience and all but winking his way through the salacious details. Despite being a BBC Religion commission it looked like something from a US cable station, forever repeating information for the benefit of non-existent advert breaks, endless montages featuring the same shot of the Pope every couple of minutes and all too dramatic music whenever some sliver of information was finally revealed after minutes of rhetorical questions such as 'So what was it about the Gospel of St. Thomas that the early church found so controversial?' Just tell us will you !?!

    Never Mind The Full Stops was an exercise in how not to do a panel game with boring questions, guests who often looked bored and pissed off and a host in Julian Fellowes who must have looked great on paper but was completely unlikeable on screen. The trailer which contrived to make him look like a bullfrog through the magic of slow motion didn't really help either.

    Disappointment of the year ?

    Torchwood I was talking to an old college friend recently and we inevitably got onto the subject of Torchwood, a show she'd been eagerly anticipating but had unfortunately ended up missing because of work commitments. She had managed to catch the last half of the episode Small Worlds and had but this to say. 'John Barrowman can't act can he? He was quite good in Doctor Who but (sigh) he should stick to musical theatre'.

    I was about to take John's corner but then thought - well, hold on, if the only thing she could think about is the probable leading man's acting ability, then there must really be something going horribly wrong. Torchwood is a show in trouble and its difficult to really understand quite what the production team are trying to achieve. If this wasn't a Doctor Who spin-off I would probably have stopped watching by now. It says a hell of a lot that I'm now looking forward to a new episode of Robin Hood more than this.

    After the promise of the still brilliant opening episode the programme quickly descended into a disappointing mix of random characterization, clichéd storylines and annoying visuals. For every cool moment, such as a cyberwoman battling a pterodactyl there's some distractingly poor bit of dialogue or storytelling - including an astonishingly mawkish moment at the end of one episode when Barrowman had to deliver the line: 'A million shadows of human emotion - we've just got to live with them...' whilst standing on a roof looking out across Cardiff (again). Perhaps its biggest crime was to introduce an apparent group of ongoing guest characters -

    Fundamentally the show lacks romance. With the word 'adult' fixed in their heads, Russell T Davies and his production team try and inject as much sex, violence and swearing as they can even when the story doesn't necessarily call for it. The premise appears to have been to tell the kinds of stories that Doctor Who can't when really they should develop from apparatus of the show. It was promised that Cardiff would be seen as one of the characters in the show, but apartment from endless shots of the ring-roads and Cardiff Bay and accents these stories could be happening anywhere, unlike Joss Whedon's Angel (which Davies himself has suggested for comparison) which was very much of its place and could not have been set anywhere else - New York for example.

    Another one of these ...

    Links Until I can get something sorted out, if you want to see the delicious links mixed in with everything else, you can tune your feedreader to the feed from FeedBurner.

    Review 2006: Epilogue

    Review of Review 2006

    When I decided what I would be doing for Review 2006 this year I inevitably had no idea of the range and scope it would take or that in the end it would only sporadically actually be a review of the year 2006. Most days I would spend hours writing these pieces and the rest of the time would be spent thinking of answers. Some predictably came much more easily than others and required more research. I hadn't planned to write so many mini-essays and on reflection I perhaps should have set myself a word limit to save on the wildest excesses. But then, I think some of the best pieces are the longest.

    I should also have expected that some of the questions would be quite personal, especially since for most of the time I'm not that open on the blog, certainly less prone to personal gossip than others. I know some of you were disappointed that I didn't go into even more detail sometimes, but since the algorithm at Google is getting really good at fishing out information, I wanted to save a few blushes (although one of these days I promise to tell you the story of my first kiss since I don't even know her name so can't even mention it).

    I think it best to simply represent the questions with updated information and comments, a kind of annotation, including some catch up on what else might have been happening in life when I was posting these answers. One of the things I was very conscious of is that there's only so much text that people will read, and I'm surprised, pleased and blessed that there are people who have read everything and I hope enjoyed at least some of it.

    Why can't Liverpool FC win away from home?
    Google 'liverpool away form' and this post is right at the top. Meanwhile, their performance has improved.

    Given that Casino Royale is in the cinema's at the moment - just how many girls has Bond been with? How many can you name (characters)?
    I was given The Best of Bond compilation for Christmas which oddly doesn't put the songs in chronological order. It features Lulu's Man With A Golden Gun and Shirley Bassey's Moonraker which are catastrophic. I do have a soft spot though for Rita Coolidge's All Time High, although it's disappointing they couldn't have worked the film's title Octopussy in somewhere.

    If you could have your own total fantasy life, what would it be like?
    My coffee machine broke down and I had to go out and buy a new one. For the science that's attributed to the production of a cup of black coffee, outside of Starbucks I haven't tasted anything better than what's produced from this coffee filter machine that cost six pounds. Another christmas present was a set of coffee mugs in various sizes that when stacked together with their saucers show a complete picture of the Eiffel Tower. Amazing.

    Whenever I think of doing something like a blog, I always worry that anything I write would either sound really pretentious or be very boring. How do you handle those fears and just write?
    Writing Review 2007 has helped me enormously in terms of simple having to sit down and writie something. I'm not proud of every answer -- some could be tighter, others better structured but overall I'm glad that I did this. I'm still not sure what my voice is, although I really need to stop using the words 'although' and 'really' quite so much.

    Throughout most of The Empire Strikes Back, the Millenium Falcon's hyperdrive is not working (should have gone to Kwik Fit!) so it can't travel faster than light! However, there is a point where they travel from the Anoat System to the Bespin system. Separate Star systems would never be less than a couple of light years apart (I presume!), i.e. at least two years travel even if they could attain just a tiny bit less than light speed! It clearly doesn't take them this long, so is it some sort of 'worm-hole' or curved universe phenomena that they utilise to accomplish their trip? I simply must know! :) Thank you!
    I thought of another possibility. Temporal anomaly. See a hundred episodes of Star Trek.

    You might have covered this before, but, why Stuart *Ian* Burns - and not just Stuart Burns? And, if I can squeeze in another related to that, how do you feel about people who spell it "Stewart"?
    Sure enough, my MA degree certificate says 'Stuart Ian Burns'. Still seems right somehow.

    I only thought of this last night, but I'd be interested to read your musings on the adverts shown on the programmes you watch a lot. There is a point. They must be aimed at a certain type of audience, the people they expect to be watching, but they're often wildly off. What's sort of person do they think you are, and what can be the logic behind those decisions?
    I was watching a video recording of Queen Christina, the Greta Garbo film, recorded from Channel 4 in the late nineties. One of the adverts I remembered seeing before was for Super Noodles -- you might know the one -- were a Dad is eating noodles and uses a shirt to wipe his mouth and then discovers its the one his wife was going out in so he blames it on the young child who is sitting on the couch. Camera changes angle and it's Martin Freeman, looking oh so young.

    Have you ever found the one true love in your life, but not been in a position to do anything about it, for whatever reason?
    An anonymous commenter said something rather beautiful about this: "It's all about timing. even if you do find the right person, it has to be the right time or else, it just isn't going to happen, or you try to make it happen and it ends up messing everything up. Good thing you're in the film making business because there are billions of falling in and out of love stories and we all think our own is something special and unique because it was. to us."

    Why do people say "cheap at half the price" when they mean the full price is also, well, cheap? Makes no sense to me!"
    It's funny how I was able later to come up with a more logical argument for science over religion than this.

    Of all the trivia that you've blogged or read over the years, which bit sticks in your mind the most, and why?
    Despite what I said above, I'm going to start drinking more water again. Too much coffee is making me quint and my hands are shaking.

    What's the major problem with Torchwood and can Russell T Davies fix it or is it a lost cause? Can a showrunner really run two shows at once?
    This was probably the most popular post of the Review and is still being linked on blogs and discussion boards, including this Danish usenet board were they roundly criticised it (I think - I was translating using Babel Fish). Torchwood didn't improve, and now with The Sarah Jane Adventures there are three shows on the slate. Good luck Russell.

    What one question, if asked, would you be most inclined to answer with a lie - and why?
    Resolved not to simply say ok and ask genuine questions. I did bump into someone out shopping on Christmas Eve had a whole conversation with them and have absolutely no idea who they were even though they seemed to know a hell of a lot about me. It wasn't one of you was it? I felt awful.

    I've kindly been given a subscription to LoveFilm and while I have a few things I'd like to see I want to make the most of the opportunity and see films I wouldn't otherwise. I have a largely uneducated interest in foreign film, particularly French and Italian - any recommendations? No horror please, just interesting and beautiful films you think are worth watching.
    Horrifying lack of foreign cinema on tv over Christmas, even on BBC Four. There was a horrifying lack of any art house films at all in Freeview land. Sky Cinema and TCM seem to have the rights sewn up.

    What do you feel provides the human race with answers, closest to the truth, Science or Religion?
    When I went to Birmingham for the job interview, I visited St. Martin's Church near The Bullring. It's a lovely building and despite everything I said in this post, I still felt a tremor and not a little bit humbled. If that happens I know that I can't simply call myself an aethist. That too seems simplistic. When I told my mum, she said that I was a Questioner, which sounds like a nice substitute for the now appropriated by someone else Non-denominational Spiritualist. I was happy to see that Gia agreed with me, and someone else left some useful supporting material in this comment. I have some very smart readers.

    What are you most afraid of and why? What have you done to overcome your fears?
    I began applying for a job earlier and on the pull down menu at the site I was able to select Merit. Outstanding. When my graduation photo arrived, it didn't half look bad. I should have worn a different tie.

    Can you explain the appeal of Keira Knightley?
    Coming up next after the next (hopefully last) Pirates of the Caribbean film, Knightley is back in a frock for Silk, "A dark love story about a French silkworm merchant who travels to Japan and begins having an affair with a Nobleman's concubine, leaving his faithful wife alone in war-torn France." [imdb] which raised the spectre of an outrageous French accent, Atonement the next film from Joe Wright who directed Pride and Prejudice, based on the Ian McKewan novel and The Best Time of Our Lives from John Maybury, director of The Jacket -- "Two feisty, free-spirited women are connected by the brilliant, charismatic poet who loves them both." Rumour has it the other feisty, free-spirited woman is Lindsay Lohan which seems like type-casting to me ...

    What's the next new thing that's being talked as something that's going to 'revolutionize' our lives in say 6 - 10 years time? It can be in any sphere you like.
    Didn't snow on Christmas Day and it was the wind what led to the postponing of the fireworks at New Year.

    Now that it's all done and dusted, what sequence would you recommend watching the six Stars Wars films? Although I've tried, I still can't watch them in I,II,III,IV etc order ...
    Apparently just days before The Phantom Menace was due to be lensed, George Lucas rang Steven Spielberg and begged for him to take over the directing of the film. He declined. Shame. He ended up doing the animatic for the lightsaber battle in the lava at the end of Sith which is probably one of the best things in any of the films.

    Next Saturday, I'll be back in Liverpool for the day, with my girlfriend. One of the reasons for the visit is so that she can get a better feel for the city because we're thinking of moving there. So, can you tell me where the hidden cool and interesting bits of Liverpool are?
    Brilliantly, Adrian has written about what happened that day: "Leaving Paddy's Wigwam led us naturally along Hope Street, past the Everyman and the Phil(harmonic Hall). We'd timed it so that we could stop around here for lunch, and The Quarter restaurant proved an excellent recommendation. Thanks Stuart. The food was lovely; service was superb; and we even bought one of the artworks on display on the walls." My pleasure. In an email, Adrian says that coincidentally he got the Pevsner guide for Christmas too.

    Who's your favourite and least favourite Doctor, and companion?
    The new BBC7 series with Paul McGann certainly vindicated my choice -- he was better than ever. Doctor Who Magazine's review section described it as 'Essential' which from their reviewer Matt Michael who never seem to be impressed with anything is high praise indeed. The dramas can be heard every Sunday at 6pm and midnight and is on listen again here. If you hurry, you'll be able to hear the first episode. New companion Lucie was good, but I've still got a soft spot for Charlie...

    Have you ever had any kind of casual/one of experience with a member of the same sex? Even if just a suppressed crush on an actor or musician etc?
    Jess wondered: "Do you think perhaps he might have been a bit tipsy, rather than trying to chat you up?" Yes! Watching Queen Christana, and the scene were Garbo feels her way around the inn room so that she can remember it, I resolved to see every other film she ever made.

    People say money can't buy you happiness. I find this an over simplification of a complicated argument. What is your point of view?
    I found a ten pound note in my wallet I didn't know I had. That made me happy.

    What is the significance of the Wolf in American Indian teachings?
    Questioner Alan left his own succinct answer in the comments: "Wolves symbolize family, teaching, co-operation, insight, stealth, strength, leadership, loyalty, freedom, individuality, psychic energy connected to the moon (hidden wisdom), sharing knowledge and wisdom, cunning, hunting, seeking, introspection, listening, magick, dreams, They are connection to the moon and to Wepwawet, Zeus Lycaeus, Apollo, Ares, Mars, Silvanus, Cernunnos and Odhinn." Thanks Alan.

    What are your views on the pedestrianisation of Norwich city centre?
    When I passing up Church Street in Liverpool just before Christmas I heard a busker outside HMV singing the theme tune to 'Cheers' -- 'Sometimes you wanna go - were everybody knows your name ...' I had to give him some pennies. If there'd been a road and traffic, I might not have heard him.

    What is your favorite film and why?
    My main present this year, the back issues of Movie magazine are proving to be amazing. Today I was reading all kinds of insights into the transition from silent to sound. For example, the really smart actors and actresses left Hollywood for a few months during the transition and returned to the stage, sometimes to tiny roles, so that they could retrain and discipline their accents so that it would be legible or deamable as acceptible on screen. They were brought back into the fold with open arms. Many of those who decided to stick it out or decided they were too famous and untouchable found themselves getting less and less work because the sound of their voice wasn't what people were looking for.

    Which bit of trivia about you would you like to be remembered by?
    Number thirteen.

    BBC4 have just given you carte blanche to create your own TV evening from 7pm-2am. What do you show and why?
    Oddly enough Measure for Measure was featured in the documentary Lenny and Will over Christmas. You can hear it here (link opens BBC Radio Player).

    Do you think any of the cultural stereotypes about English people are true?
    In the comments, Probitionate suggests a few more: "1) Fabulous, endemic sense of humour. (This is creeping into my 'insights' list, but really; you guys know how to laugh. Any nation that has panto is on the right-track Life-outlookwise, in my book.) 2) Despite being 'prudish' (a distinctly 'class-oriented' stereotype), a ribald sense of the sexual. (Benny Hill and Page 3 birds) 3) Especially when there's beer involved...gregariously, heart-warmingly friendly. (Ask me -insights-wise? about two of the most endearing qualities connected to this, wrapped-up in language.)"

    Why is Doctor Who so disappointing all of a sudden? Is it down to age?
    Inevitably in Doctor Who Magzine, Russell T Davies mentions some of the destinations in the next series and they include the far-flung planet, Malcassairo and a world set thousands of light years away. Along, at least, with visits to 1930s New York and Elizabethen London, this looks like the most ambitious season yet.

    Would you stop writing your blog if your stats told you there were 0 readers?
    Still here. Still writing. Still looking at the stats.

    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?
    Madeleine Peyroux did a turn on Jool's Holland's Hootenanny 2006, prerecorded for New Year's Eve. She looked ... uncomfortable and didn't sound right. She pitched womanfully on, and then gave a look at the end which showed she wasn't happy with her performance either. I think it was something to do with sound feedback because she had her finger in her ear through most of it. Still, at least we could hear her. Look what happened to Sophie Ellis Bextor on the other side...

    This has once again been a wonderful experience and certainly the biggest challenge yet. Don't forget it's your turn next year and I already have a couple of ideas, one of which will begin extra specially early. I'll let you know ...

    Dead monitor

    Life My old computer monitor died. It was eight years old. I bought it with my first computer system and it's worked perfectly well since. Last night as I was tapping away on the Review 2006 epilogue, the vertical hold finally gave up the ghost. Luckily, an Uncle had a spare one I could borrow and here I am again. It's a bit larger which is very disconcerting. Speak to anyone whose expecting to be spoken to later ...


    Links For some reason my Delicious links aren't being fed into Blogger lately. You can see what you've been missing here, and the rss feed is here.


    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!