My writing

Life I've been reflecting on this handy article which has highlighted a couple of areas of my writing style which could do with some improvement, particularly the use of crutch words (and phrases, I would say), awkward phrasing and those pesky suffixes. I'd argue that I've picked all of that up from the material that I read and the styles I'm trying to emulate, but I can often feel myself turning out very similar, bland sounding sentences. I'm sure it's related to the sheer amount of writing I turn out, but I look at some of the fluid copy which fills the pages of the magazines and books and newspapers I read and I just know I'm not up to that standard.

It's become apparent that one of the reasons that I've developed this unhappiness and what could be called a crisis of faith in my own writing style, particularly on the blog and elsewhere (apart from not having much to write about) is that I've returned to the habit of putting together something like a review and posting it straight away. This means that when I look back at it later -- the next day, even the next hour, I see errors or things I'd like to change or I think I could have worded better or that could be less repetitive. What I really should be doing, and will try to do in future, is not rush to just drop something here because it's been written.

I know that goes against the immediacy of the medium, but from a young age I was told that whenever you write anything for public consumption you should put it in a drawer overnight and let it marinate before the rest of the world sees it. That sounds like very good advice. Most of the answers I wrote for Review 2006 were at least begun a few days in advance and completed on the night of posting and I'm really pleased with what I accomplished there. I agonized for a week over the final draft of my dissertation. I need to get back into the habit of rereading things before I submit them because they always improve when I've glanced over them a second time. The review I've written tonight will be appearing tomorrow, then, and it will be better.

Links for 2007-01-12 []

  • Paul Cornell's House of Awkwardness: A Visit to Doctor Who
    Fascinating post about his visit to the set during the recording of his two parter for next series. Great detail for fans, particularly the mention Gary Russell who has apparently moved to Cardiff. Is he researching a another book?
  • Bermuda Sun: Are you ready to say goodbye?
    It's a while since I actually watched a final finale for any show -- probably The West Wing. The kinds of programmes I like tend to simply fade away or get canceled or find out mid season and then have to scramble.
  • filmlog: DiG! (2004)
    Often hilarious rockumentary contrasting the fortunes of two bands who began together and then went their separate ways, one up, one down. Sounds corny, but this is 'Spinal Tap' for the indie generation.
  • Actor History: David Tennant
    Fails to mention Doctor Who but the photos are amusing.
  • Wikipedia: Deal or No Deal (UK game show)
    "There has also been criticism of the Banker's tactics and questions asked about the fairness of the game, with offers varying wildly from the surprisingly generous to offers that are so poor [...] as to virtually force a 'no deal'."
  • Edgar Governo, Historian of Things That Never Were
    "History is a fascinating subject. There is an almost irresistible draw to look at the bigger picture, the overall course of events, in an attempt to glean some insight or approach some greater knowledge."
  • Defrag

    Life I'm listening to Diana Krall and trying to get my internet experience sorted out. I've been something of a pack rat when it comes to websites, bookmarking all sorts of things for later, a rainy day, some time when I'll actually sit down and read them. I have directories all over the place and it's all very disorganised and given my lack of much else to do on a Friday night (I know), I've decided to manually defrag. I should probably just delete everything and start again, but I can't bare to do that in case something called 'Are you ready to say goodbye?' turns out to be a really interesting bit of writing. Expect a massive [delicious] update.

    Links for 2007-01-11 []

  • Holt Uncensored: Ten Mistakes Writers Don't See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do)
    I hope I'm not too guilty of these. Crutch words are certainly a problem.
  • BBC News Entertainment: Unsigned band set to crash charts
    To me this looks like music fans taking back the chart, which is so much fun it probably won't last for long, especially if the record companies stop being important. If these guys can do it, why would anyone want to sign a contract?
  • filmlog: My Fair Lady (1964)
    The reason for a lack of post tonight on the main blog. Currently in the intermission after watching Audrey drop her bizarre accent in favour of her own. I am enjoying it. The songs are lovely. I really could have danced all night.
  • Links for 2007-01-10 [] - Rmail

  • icLiverpool: Half a million visitors enjoy the Palm House
    "THE story of the Sefton Park Palm House is a reflection of Liverpool's rise and fall - and rise again."
  • filmlog: A Prairie Home Companion (2006)
    My review -- I don't think this is another 'Match Point' which I raved about the first time then hated the second. This had a warm feeling, as though each time I'll watch it'll be like visiting old friends.
  • Roger Ebert: A Prairie Home Companion
    Ebert liked it too, although his review puts mine to shame. I wish I could write as fluidly as that.
  • From the North...: Craig Hinton
    Keith Topping writes movingly about the late Craig Hinton, Doctor Who author and friend.
  • Keys of Marinus

    TV Keith Topping writes movingly on his blog about the late Craig Hinton, Doctor Who author:

    "Craig was one of the most articulate, instantly likeable, witty, gregarious, violently - and endearingly - bitchy(!) and genuinely warm people I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. He wasn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination and he could hold a grudge for a long time if he felt it was warrented. But there wasn't so much as an ounce of maliciousness in the guy."

    The story about faking a Terry Nation script is beautiful.

    Lift philosophy.

    Life I'm sitting at the table on my balcony at home. The view from beyond my screen if the windows weren't covered in condensation and it wasn't ten past nine in the evening would be the one you saw on New Year's Eve across into Toxteth, with the Anglican Cathedral and the rest of Liverpool and the River Mersey on the horizon.

    In a twist of fate I have a laptop. Over Christmas I discovered some relatives were throwing it away because the screen is broken and I asked if I could look at it and see just how damaged it is. They agreed, and also that I could have it if I could use it for anything. On Boxing Day they brought it around, I started it up and sure enough there is a fault line that runs almost across the middle of the screen, blocking the viewing of icons, pointer, text, anything underneath.

    The machine is quite an old model, from a company called Pico, and has a label stuck just next to the dodgy disc drive saying that it's been tested and agreed to be Year 2000 complaint. Somewhere on the hard disk are a group of mp3s from a 1999 Steps album that someone has ripped to try out that software. But it's still a working laptop and I could learn to love using it, despite the faults, in the same way that I love buying battered library copies of books that look like they've had a long life and been seen by many hands, some of whom have left notes in the margins. Perhaps I will find a use for the Nokia mobile phone software that has been installed and Correl 8.

    It'll be fine for doing this, with WordPad's window resized to stop just above the fault line. It's nice being away from my room, away from everything else, being able to write in relative peace and quiet except for the odd screeching of a speeding car using the road around the park as a race track or bang of a door from one of the surrounding balconies. It's almost like being in one of those old studies rooms I used at the university during the writing of my dissertation and I can feel myself being able to concentrate just as I did back then, which is a change for lately.

    I went to Manchester today, also for a change of scene, just to go to Manchester because I haven't been for a few weeks. As well as buying some new tracksuit bottoms and a replacement side plate from Marks and Sparks (but not a birthday present for my Mum which was half the point of the trip), I found in Vinyl Exchange a copy of the soundtrack to Happy Endings, the film I studied for my dissertation complete with the amazing vocalisations from Maggie Gyllenhall. They also had the Sandi Thom album for a pound, so I can also say from experience that it's not actually that good, an opinion I'll expand upon further one of these days.

    I also visited the central library to return some Hamlet recordings. Their lift is the slowest I've had the 'pleasure' to travel in ever. It takes at least thirty seconds after a button press to close the doors, then another ten seconds before deciding to go to the destination floor.

    Today as it weezed itself open on the ground floor, a woman stepping looking a bit confused. Two twentysomethings were standing next to the floor buttons and one of them asked were she would like to go.

    "The first floor, thank you." She said, with a surprised expression on her face, before continuing with "Don't ever let yourself be used in life, for goodness sake."
    They giggled, and so did I but she just stood with her back to the wall and rolled her eyes. I could tell there was something behind the words, something that must have happened to her, in her life. The way she said 'for goodness sake' -- not sarcastic, simply making sure we all understood her plea.

    The doors opened on her floor and she stepped backwards out.

    As the doors closed again, the twentysomethings looked at me, expecting me to add something to that. I wanted to say something else philosophical, like 'Time Is A Great Dealer' but thought better of it and simply grinned and said: "It's good advice."
    Which it is. Don't ever let yourself be used in life. For goodness sake.

    Genre Soup

    Film It's fitting that final film of the late Robert Altman should bare all of the hallmarks of his directing style. Throughout his career, the director strove to work against all the expectations of traditional storytelling, throwing out such apparently important conventions in storytelling and characterisation in favour of a kind of faux-realism in which events occurred, characters reacted to them and the film progressed with the very minimum of structure. Such was the style called Altmanesque and so it goes with A Prairie Home Companion, one of the best films of his career.

    Another of Altman's genre experiments and his first attempt at a true backstage musical, the group of performers pulling together to put on a show, in this case, using one of the well worn plotlines, under the threat of closure. 'A Praire Home Companion' is the fictionalisation of a real weekly show of folk and country which in the film is to end after its host radio station has been sold.

    Its stalwarts are gathered together for one last hoorah and the film progresses almost in real time during that final broadcast, weaving in and out of this ragtag group of friends as they face the possibility of never performing together again. None of them have what could be considered their own storyline -- instead they're sketched in, their chatter providing little bits of information about who they are and what they want in life -- which is mostly to carry on playing good music.

    What makes this so complex, so typically Altman, is that rather than simply offering that good music and chat amongst these familiars, which would have been perfectly enjoyable, the director along with screenwriter Garrison Keillor (who also appears as the compare of the show) adds an extra layer of the fantastic and creates a dream-like atmosphere.

    Also fittingly considering the number of jingles that are performed throughout about food, Altman has created a kind of genre-soup, in which many of the characters seem to be representing some film-cycle from old Hollywood. Most obvious of these is Guy Noir (Kevin Klein) who provides a Chandleresque voiceover to introduce and close out the movie, in and around a diner straight out of a Robert Hopper painting.

    Elsewhere, Dusty and Lefty (Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly) have walked out of a cowboy picture complete with hats and guns cocked and ready, family singing group Yolanda and Rhonda (Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin) are like veterans of a women's film, Virginia Madsen's mysterious blonde provides an element of the supernatural and to stretch the analysis, Lindsey Lohan is the epitome of the teen film, writing superficial poetry about death until she's faced with the real thing.

    These genre games continue into the music which mixes country with folk and blues with brilliant effect. A key success is that the rhythms moved an inveterate country music avoider like me, tapping my foot along throughout the upbeat numbers and holding back the tears everywhere else. The music is performed by a mixture of real musicians playing themselves and the 'stars' all of whom are able to reflect the notion that they could actually make a good fist of a career should the acting gigs dry up.

    The concert, is the unifying motion in the film, continuing even as other action happens off stage. If there's a problem, it's that sometimes the music is so good that the cutaways become irritating and I really hope that there will be a dvd containing an uncut version of the whole concert. It's interesting that Altman concentrates completely on the company, rarely showing audience members or even making one or two of them principle characters. Instead they're hidden in the darkness of the auditorium, almost as though we're meant to imagine ourselves sitting there instead.

    The acting in the film is first rate. Far from providing the bum note some have suggested, Keiller is deeply effecting and in places heartbreaking as a principled man who's simply taking life's brickbats with dignity and a song. Harrelson and Reilly are a perfect double act, convincingly joshing their way through one of the concert's highlights 'Bad Jokes' (which I'm sure was once a routine used by some British comedy duo); Streep and Tomlin provide a startling harmony too both in song and during their dressing room scenes in which they look back over their hardspun country lives; Klein is a stand-out for giving dimension to what could have been a comic book character and Virginia Madsen radiates the same ethereal quality she displayed during the famous wine scene from Sideways.

    Much of the film's poignancy stems from the overall feeling that this is the work of someone who knows it's to be their final film. As well as the end of the radio series and the theatre there are incidents within which point to the work of a man who is trying to sum up their work and to indicate that there will be no more. It reminds me of Shakespeare, whose final solo play, The Tempest is filled with references to previous work and whose central character, the wizard Prospero often appears to be communicating the end of everything to his audience.

    Of course, this is attributing meaning after the fact -- Altman was already preparing another film at the time of his death, but it's also interesting to note that like Shakespeare who would come out of retirement to collaborate with John Fletcher the bright young thing on The Two Noble Kinsmen, Altman was helped on set here (for insurance purposes) by Paul Thomas Anderson, a director who not that long ago was feited as his successor and has already been suggested to pick up the reigns on that dangling project, completing Altman's legacy.

    See you Robert and thanks for leaving us this final treat.

    Links for 2007-01-09 []

  • Kristine Lowe: Is a blog without comments still a blog?
    Seems apt to post this whilst Blogger is on one of its many downtimes. I would say that a blog is anything with reverse dates although there also needs to be some interactivity even if it's just linking elsewhere otherwise, what's the point?
  • filmlog: Blissfully Yours (2002)
    This reminded me of Virginia Woolf's 'To The Lighthouse' -- the magnification life small emotional moments. Just a pity that on the whole it's so tedious to watch even with the sudden moments of sexuality and lush photography.
  • An Unreliable Witness: Writing: This (was never my) Life
    More This Life+10 criticism. Would it be wrong to say that its the first time the not-we have understood what it was like for us to see the prequel Star Ward trilogy or Torchwood being so fundamentally disappointing>
  • musiclog: Take These Flowers Away Ep: Music: Lauren Laverne
    For me Lauren is a much missed musical presence. It's nice to see her getting so much presenting and DJing work, but this remains one of my favourite singles/EPs and it's a shame she hasn't returned to it. Recommended.
  • penn: Two types of people
    Even though I don't drive, I'd like to think I'm a waiter/unlocker. And that if I knew that someone lived on my route that I'd give them a lift. I've always tried to follow the dictum that if I can help someone, I will.
  • BBC NEWS Entertainment: Morrissey in talks for Eurovision
    That got your attention: "I was horrified but not surprised to see the UK fail," he said. "Why didn't they ask me?"
  • Random Acts Of Reality: The Post That May Lose Reynolds His Job...
    On why meal breaks for Ambulance personnel are impossible in the current climate.
  • Adam Buxton: Humiliating TV appearance news
    "Mark Lamarr, who had barely said hello before we got started was scrupulously charmless from the get go and I began to wish I hadn’t agreed to come on the show." The post that got Buxton bumped from 'Have I Got News For You' apparently.
  • filmlog: Holiday Inn (1942)
    Great idea -- a song for every holiday -- with great music and dancing. 'White Christmas' is lovely in situ, but it's not really a festive film in that way. Not sure how I felt about 'Abraham' but love that Fred is essentially the bad guy.
  • The Bloggies 2007: For Your Consideration

    TV The Bloggies 2007 are looking for nominations again and since everyone else with a blog is making a pitch, here is ours. The categories Behind The Sofa might be eligible for are ...

    Best Entertainment Weblog
    Best Group Weblog
    Most Humorous Weblog
    Best Writing of a Weblog
    Best-Designed Weblog
    Weblog of the Year
    Best Kept Secret Weblog
    Best British or Irish Weblog
    Best LGBT Weblog (what with Torchwood, probably)

    Vote early, vote often. Remember you can repeat the nomination in more than one category. The space theme on the voting page might be a good omen.

    Spaced Out.

    Life The postman has started visiting excessively late. The other day the mail was delivered at 2:30 and it was 1:30 in the afternoon today. The fact that I even care about this proves one thing -- I need to get employment so that I'll be out all day and this won't actually matter. I'm applying for jobs, although the whole process is really, really difficult because quite often the advertisements don't actually match the application when they arrive -- and not just because I've been sent the wrong one.

    A company in Basingstoke was looking for a Communication Assistant. The advert implied it would be a main editorial position and the perfect thing for someone looking for a start in the industry. They mentioned the need for degrees and it all looked perfect. I received the full person specification today and it's essentially a situation for a proven Admin Assistant -- they'd over emphasised some qualities over others and so wasted some paper sending something out to me that I couldn't really use. Although a friend at university from Basingstoke had nothing good to say about Basingstoke ('Lots of roundabouts and car parks' apparently) it would have been a start and I'm sure the area has improved a bit in ten years.

    I'm certainly more proactive than I was when I left university first time around and after Review 2006 I've begun to put together a portfolio of writing, although I've a feeling that it'll end up being like a CV -- tailored to whomever I'm sending it to unsolicited. I think I need to diversify the writing though -- perhaps visit some restaurants so that I can try my and at food reviews and research and write some longer pieces on more newsy topics. If anyone reading has some advice it would be gratefully received. Good lord, I'm beginning to sound like Daisy from Spaced. Which has to be a good thing, surely.

    Links for 2007-01-08 []

  • OurChart. You're On It.
    New social networking site inspired by 'The L Word'. Mostly material related to the programme at the moment which I'll able to read when I've caught up.
  • the hamlet weblog: Eight
    In which I give a forty year old recording of Hamlet with the well respected actor Paul Scofield a right old slagging. Seriously, these are three and a half hours of my life I'll never get back. Still, it's one more towards the target.
  • Manga Force - the Manga magazine and DVD collection
    Bought the first issue because it featured 'Ghost In The Shell' and it was only £2.99 even though it should really be called 'Anime Force'.
  • Anil Dash: How Matt Haughey Beat Google
    Excellent analysis of why AskMetafilter works. I'm always annoyed when the many articles that are produced about online Ask services aren't far sighted enough to include what was probably the source for them all.
  • Clive Cussler really, really dislikes 'Sahara'
    John links and comments on an LA Times story about the trials that the script for the action film 'Sahara' when through be before reaching the screen and the ensuing lawsuit from the author of the original film.
  • filmlog: Sahara (2005)
    Not quite as rip or roaring as it should be due to weird plotting, but all of the actors are good value and some of the action scenes are excellent.
  • Evening Telegraph: Hollywood star set to play former Dundee man
    Or more specifically, Jack Black to play Danny Wallace in the film of his book 'Yes Man'. A 'Join Me' film is also in the works. Perhaps this'll turn into a franchise...
  • “Big cheers for the first blue”

    TV For the very interested, here is a full game report for yesterday’s jackpot episode of Deal or no Deal?:
    “Noel introduces today’s show in one of his louder shirts and expects a battle with the banker today as he is in fighting mood for 2007. Noel talks about the two shows where courage wasn’t rewarded this week and also the two systems that didn’t perform, he wonders what today’s contestant will bring to the show.”
    Tonight’s contestant left with a tenner. Swings and roundabouts.

    For Your Consideration:

    About Is it wrong to suggest that you nominate this humble blog for the 2007 Bloggies? I usually beat around the bush on this, but for a change I'm going to real mix the metaphor and hit it with a mallet, especially since Darren's doing it too.

    I think this is eligible for Best British or Irish Weblog, Best Writing of a Weblog (?), Best-Kept Secret Weblog, Lifetime Achievement (?) and Weblog of the Year. Possibly.

    While we're at it, Behind The Sofa would make the perfect 'Best Group Weblog' or 'Best Entertainment Weblog'

    Sway with me.

    The Weather I really don't know how windy it is out there, but the floor is moving more than I ever remember it doing before. The building often sways, but I can feel body move from left to right whilst my wrists are wresting on the table.

    So cold.

    Life Our hot water and heating broke down last night. We called the man out, and the man's friend in the call centre said he would be here this morning. We called this morning and it turned out the man hadn't been asked yet, but that he would be asked. He eventually arrived this evening. In a fit of doing it myself next time, I grabbed a note pad ready to write down what he did to get it working so that I could replicate it in the future. Once he'd left, here is what I wrote.

    Notice I left lots of space after writing up the title for all of the really intricate instructions.

    He played about with some knobs, twiddled with a switch then reached up and smacked it hard on the side. The hot water started working. He hit it again and the heating came back on. Something to do with a diaphram.
    'So' I said, 'If it breaks down again I should just hit it?'
    'Yes.' He replied. 'Although not too often otherwise the boiler will fall off the wall.'
    He's ordered a new one.

    08 Paul Scofield

    Hamlet played by Paul Scofield.
    Directed by Howard Sackler.

    What a chore. This is the first time I've begun writing about an audio production whilst I'm still listening to it simply because I don't want to spend more time even thinking about it than the duration. It's a shame, because it begins quite well with the atmospheric sound of waves as Horatio first hears of the ghostly reappearance of Hamlet Snr. The problem begins when Paul Scofield's Hamlet trots through. Scofield (who would later play the Ghost in Zeffirelli's film version) gives his performance in a declamatory style, reverential to the poetry. Almost every speech he gives happens almost as a broken whisper, in exactly the way I expected Shakespeare to be acted before I saw my first production, the BBC's 80s version of Measure for Measure (which I watched again the other day and continues to be the gold standard). I hope this show, recorded in 1963, isn't any school child's first exposure to the Bard because it could put them off for life.

    Everyone else is speaking in a much more contemporary, fluid way and I might have imagined that two different productions had been edited together, Scofield dropped into something else where it not for the fact that whenever any of the big, famous speech arrives the rest of the cast have a habit of dropping into the same style; the directorial decision has no doubt been to emphasise these but it leads to moments, like the one that happens when Gertrude reveals Ophelia's suicide when there is an expectant pause as though the rest of the cast are waiting for the great moment. I understand that this was the rule in Shakespeare's day, and that often these things would be repeated for effect, but here it works against the drama. There's probably a really good production somewhere that makes a feature of expectant repetition but this isn't it.

    The problem in this case with being reverential to the language is that it also reduces the pace of the story and draws it away from being the passionate discussion of the nature of humanity that I love. It is instead an exercise in presenting the words, and although those are great words, the drama is lost. The appearance of the Ghost, accompanied by the scratching of harp strings works quite well, but is quickly ruined because the actor playing Hamlet Snr, like Scofield, declares his way through it Churchill-like and the scene seems to continue forever sapping it of the shock and awe it really needs.

    Perhaps I shouldn't be quite so harsh about the traditionalism -- this was recorded over forty years ago; it's just that I haven't yet heard a Polonius this daffy and old and lacking all the quite manipulation so evident in the text, particularly when he petitions Reynaldo. New King Claudius too doesn't come across as villainous enough; there is something to be said for his evil being obscured so that his crime is less likely to everyone, but he also needs to seem capable of his brother's murder and this Claudius really doesn't. This Horatio is very good, exhibiting some of the tragedy that this Hamlet lacks.

    Neither of the women are particularly strong in this production. Ophelia is particularly naive and distant. Gertrude too, for once, sounds as though she was easily led by Claudius, and what for me is a key scene, whether Hamlet brings Gertude on the side of his cause after the death of Polonius is left entirely unclear. About the most affecting moments are when both allow the tragedy to wash over them and they simply descend into tears.

    Inevitably, things are picking up towards the end. The Gravedigger's scene is lovely until Scofield puts on his big speech voice. One of the great features of the production is that this actually feels like a royal family, these are kings and queens and princes and princesses which is something many productions forget. The trumpets and orchestration between scenes help to emphasise this, although sometimes it isn't clear if they're supposed to be within the scene or just signaling the scene shift or both.

    But in the best productions, there is a feeling as the duel descends of the end of an era, the break up the status quo. For me it's a but like thirteenth night, Christmas is over and the decorations are down and the feeling of comfort won't ever return. Hamlet's aware of this but soldiers on with all bravura, saying that he thinks he'll win, but secretly knowing that it can't go well. But that's missing here, with one of the most poignant speeches, 'The readiness is all...' whispered off musically. I've had enough. Fortinbras can't come quickly enough.

    Links for 2007-01-07 []

  • filmlog: Snow Falling on Cedars (1999)
    Beautifully photographed and scored, emotional courtroom drama about the discrimination of the Japanese in the US after Pearl Harbour hand strung by tricksy editing and flashback structure. Excellent performances though.
  • My Off The Telly review contributions: Graham chips in.
    Graham was also asked to contribute to Off The Telly's Review 2006 and has posted the full text of his contributions here. Great stuff and I totally agree on Lead Balloon, The Real Hustle and obviously Dr Who. Careful of the '24' spoilers though.
  • Behind the Sofa: 'Brain transfers are a really stupid idea.'
    In which I review tonight's excellent new Doctor Who episode 'Blood of the Daleks' part two.
  • Annette's Notebook: Shyness vs. introversion
    I hope I'm not an introvert, but the definition sounds familiar...
  • Blood of the Daleks 2.

    TV Unsurprisingly, this review contains a few spoilers so don't read it unless you've heard 'Blood of the Daleks' first. I'll just reassure you that once again, it's really, really good and you should go here and listen to it here if you haven't already or you're waiting for the cd.

    Who is the mysterious Mr. Halburt and what does he want with Lucie Miller?

    Unlike the television versions, Doctor Who spin-offs have always been good at plot arcs. Whereas the Key To Time Season was handstrung by telling essentially the same story four or six times, in the first few seasons of the McGann audios, the problem of Charley Pollard become heart rendering and in the books the amnesiac Doctor, stuck on earth for nearly a century was a fertile ground for stories and mysteries and cultural investigation.

    The arc in this new BBC7 series has begun. Lucie and The Doctor are very much stuck together by the timelords, he apparently hiding or protecting her after she's witnessed something unknown - that much was apparent from Part One. Now, a Mr. Halburt has engaged the services of someone called the Headhunter (played with a sinister professionalism by Big Finish stalwart Katarina Olsson), an apparent bounty hunter with the facility to travel all time and space, to find the reluctant companion.

    It's all very mysterious, all very Lost, but unlike the Bad Wolf scenario were anything was possible and the reveal was inevitably going to be disappointing, this has very specific parameters, and turns this whole season into a chase and it's going to be really fun as the clues are revealed over the coming weeks as to what the Northerner saw, why the timelords want to hide her, and the connect with their antagonist.

    But that's for the future. Tonight's concluding part of Blood of the Daleks was an eclectic mix of traditional and nu-Who, authentic enough to have the announcer give a recap beforehand (which if this had been television would have no doubt featured on-set photos of the cast looking at something far off) but with the contemporary spin on the Doctor's arch foes seen in the new series - they fly and say 'Elevate!' as they're doing so.

    Hayleyatwell1 After the setting up of the world and the tragedy in the opening part, this was the Dalek heavy end of the story, with Nick Briggs doing over time on the ring modulator to create a cast of hundreds. Perhaps knowing that this story was to be heard by a much wider audience than something like the Dalek Empire stories, writer Steve Lyons concocted a straightforward meat and potatoes plot riffing on Genesis of the Daleks or Spare Parts, in which a proto-Davros, Martez (a chillingly clinical Hayley Atwell, pictured), living beyond his own execution in the body of one of his young female lab assistants was employing a crashed ship from Skaro to breed a new race using the inhabitants of his world, Red Rocket Rising, as fodder.

    Unsurprisingly, the classic Daleks decided that these new boys weren't pure enough and set about trying to eradicate them, and in a twist I loved, the Doctor was helping them. Seems that he always regretted not using the right all of those centuries ago and wanted to nip this genesis in the bud, "I had chance like this before", he says, "and I chose not to take it. Big mistake." This was catharsis for him and it revealed a much darker streak in the Eighth Doctor than we've seen before (well since the whole Zagreus thing), deciding that it's a perfectly viable option to use one evil to destroy potentially an even greater one. Even after all these years, the Daleks still have the capacity to push buttons -- whenever they talked about racial purity, a chill went down my back.

    If this had been made for television the result would have been Dalek porn, as the two factions went to war, with the tiny human colony jammed in the middle, their ravaged world becoming a shell. If last week the story resembled the BBC's Day of the Triffids, this had all the hallmarks of Spielberg's War of the Worlds with the Doctor and everyone else dodging in and out of buildings trying to escape the carnage. The atmospheric sound design here has a much greater depth than most Big Finish production, with one scene in which the Doctor and Lucie viewed the first meeting of the two factions from the top window of a building being particularly potent. The score too was far more apparent, with a lovely use of the strings to punctuate the catastrophe.

    Daleks_3 Inevitably, comparisons can be made with the new television series, with the mass Dalek army flying through the air, despite apparently being the classic models according to the cd box of the first episode, probably looking exactly like similar scenes in Doomsday. The resolution too smacked of The Age of Steel, but the final end to the conflict, fittingly for audio, was more to do with the Doctor's persuasive powers rather than some massive explosion. The theme of parallel development was repeated here too. I remember wondering, watching that mid-second season two parter what it would be like if the Telos Cybermen actually ever fought the parallel Earth versions and I imagine the results would have been something like this - although given that the former frequently couldn't walk or shoot straight and took ages to build a bomb the contest might not have been as even handed as this.

    In this month's Doctor Who Magazine, in reviewing the opening episode, Matt Michael noted that unlike Rose, there wasn't much time set aside for the listener to get a handle of Lucie, for us to love her. I'd dispute that this is actually too important, and that unlike Rose, we're seeing the adventure largely from the Doctor's point of view - she's actually part of whatever the problem he's dealing with. Lucie had less to do in this episode and yet she was still given that moment which all companions seem to have, when dealing with Tom Cardwell (whom I'd marked for death but turned into something of a heroic figure) and his explosive batteries, when they realise that whatever the Doctor is doing must be right and they should be doing everything they can to help him.

    The reason I like her, apart from Sheridan Smith's delicious performance is that she's actually bringing out a new side to the Eighth Doctor. I'd love to know what the kids listening to this are making of this version a character, so huggable on screen, so aggravated on radio. I don't think he laughed for this entire fifty minutes except in mockery, and he's no doubt got a permanent scowl which says 'the timelords have bloody gone and done it to me again'. As I said last week, and I'll probably to continue to keep saying, the chemistry between the two actors and so characters is brilliant - it's like someone has taken Clarke Gable and Claudette Colbert's characters from Frank Capra's It Happened One Night and dropped them in a Tardis together. Sort of. The Doctor's less charming than Gable, but you get the idea. Screwball. As in comedy.

    But what I really love about this is that it isn't afraid to drop in continuity references - it fits within the classic series more fluidly. In one exchange, the Doctor wonders if the Daleks were fighting the Movellans, the Mechanoids or each other and there's a lovely twist at the very end, in which Anita Dobson's vacant President Klint reveals that the woes of the Red Rock Rising aren't entirely over - some change from an arena in which just saying G-word is a major event. Only a fan though would also still be stressing about were in the Eighth Doctor's timeline this is set; according to the Gallifrey spin-off the Doctor was still in the divergent universe in the closing episode in which case the timelords are all but destroyed. In which case this might be happening before Storm Warning, but that doesn't seem right either. Any ideas?

    Next Week: The Tardis lands for the first time properly in the year of my birth. Scary.

    No more jingles.

    Life Christmas is officially over for another year. The decorations are down and packed away, the Radio Times is in the paper bank and the Christmas tree is on the pile in Sefton Park waiting to be recycled. It's been a good year if mostly uneventful. So it's been a good year. Annually now I wonder if it will be last festive season when I'll be at home for the whole period or will be coming home at all. 2005 was particularly emotional for that reason -- I simply thought that I would be doing something else this year -- which is probably why this year I didn't apply too much significance to anything other than to be happy to see us all here and mostly healthy.

    Links for 2007-01-06 []

  • filmlog: Silver City (2004)
    Political satire handstrung by languid pacing. That said, Chris Cooper is painful as the Bushalike and seeing people like Thora Birch and Tim Roth gives this a pleasing nineties indie vibe.
  • filmlog: The Idle Rich (1929)
    Creaky drawing room comedy from the dawn of the sound era directed by Cecil B. DeMille's brother William. It's disconcerting not to have music and for the location changes to flash up like a silent film instead of establishing shots.
  • filmlog:Tears of the Sun (2003)
    "I broke my own rule. I started to give a fuck!" The political situation in Nigeria reduced to the level of a Die Hard style chase thriller. Works in those genre terms although fails entirely whenever it tries to add a deeper meaning.
  • Dark Horse Comics Previews: Buffy the Vampire Slayer #1 Page 0
    The reveal on page five is a keeper. That sorts that one out then. So clever. So Joss.
  • the f-word: Observer Woman
    Excellent review of a year in the life of the Sunday supplement. Basically says that style is great but there could be more substance to set it apart from the other glossies.
  • TrekToday: Rick Berman: It Took Coto To Bring Original Series Thrill to 'Enterprise'
    "I can openly admit that I did not see all 79 episodes of the original series, or 80 if you include the various versions of the pilot, but it was something we respected and did our best to lead up to." That explains a lot.
  • American politics: And they're off
    Mostly suggests that Hilary Clinton won't be president and that the Republicans are stronger than you think. Ends with a very bizarre turn of phrase.
  • Gia has seen the final cut of 'Sunshine', the film she's been blogging about for over a year.
    And says lot's of nice things about it. Thank goodness for that.
  • Britannica Blog: Don’t Tell Mama, Rudy’s in Drag!
    As an antidote to the Economist article, a well reasons argument for why all of the popular candidates will lose in 2008.