Elsewhere Just to let you know I am still here -- I've just been busy for reasons that will be revealed tomorrow. Or if you read this review of tonight's fantastic episode of Doctor Who. I went for the somewhat autobiographical approach tonight.


TV When I suggested, like many people, that these would be the words that the Face of Boe would offer the Doctor during this blog's pre-series quiz I didn't actually think he would use those exact words. And on a day when, for various reasons I stood about twenty feet from the finishing post in Aintree at the Grand National having watched both of the horses I'd bet on fall at earlier fences, it's good to know that in general, my instincts aren't completely off kilter.

I hope Russell won some money on the gee-gees today because he deserved to after delivering a fantastic episode that not only made a virtue of the few good things in the infamous New Earth disaster but also demonstrated a new energy in the making of the programme. This was a ballsy, passionate, probably quite personal bit of storytelling and exactly why it seems to be splitting fandom in half once again, I'm not sure.

The endless sky version of the M25 is a great idea, especially in three dimensions - sure it's a staple of such dystopian films as The Fifth Element and Blade Runner, but there they were incidental pleasures. Here, nearly a whole civilization existed in the motor lanes with a Convoy-style sense of community. The affair had a slight old school feel taking place in redresses of the same set over and over which is the kind of trick which is relatively cheap but still manages to have a sense of scale - like the umpteen re-uses of The Ark In Space.

It's the community element that made this work, and that includes the singing which ranks as one of the most sad moments in recent years. It's not often in the new series that all of the running and shouting stops for this kind of moment of contemplation; the Old Rugged Cross was written by band-leader and evangelist George Bennard in old New York when his message wasn't being communicated and it's fourth line 'For a world of lost sinners was slain' tied in beautifully with the fate of the remaining city dwellers. I wonder how George would feel knowing that his message could still be resonating Five Billion years later.

When I was in my mid-teens our school choir joined a range of other schools at Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral to create a chorus of a thousand voices and this was one of the hymns we sang and even though, as I've mentioned before, my religious beliefs are undecided, hearing all of those voices intone those words was really powerful and that's exactly what was replicated on screen tonight. Seeing Martha's reaction here, so wonderfully played by the increasingly indispensable Freema took me right back because that was my reaction too.

But the joy for me is that like all of the very best Doctor Who stories, there were what seemed like hundreds of details to enjoy, incidentals bobbing in and out of one another, mostly in the various cars that the Doctor dropped through looking for Martha. Nudists? That guy from 2000 AD! Actually that was another strength of the episode - by using our comics as a touchstone it felt wonderfully British despite the ambition. I can't imagine anywhere else that interspecies relations would lead to actual kittens (poor woman). Wasn't Ardal O'Hanlon wonderful? Just enough to make me want to forgive him for appearing in forty-three episodes of My Hero. Just. Great prosthetics too...

See also, The Macra! Of all the monsters to revive! Obviously it's Russell having a laugh and you can imagine him chortling to himself at the keyboard as he refreshes one of the great unknowns. Beautifully rendered by The Mill, you could hardly pinion a whole story around them any more, but they made a change from the usual in the big chase sequences and it's a return to the series being conscious of its past 'glories'. Even three episodes in there seems to be an awareness developing that was missing from the second series was a regular glancing against the show's mythology - actual mythology not some alternate reality redux of the past. Mondas, not Lumic Cybermen, please.

That's why the return of Novice Hame and The Face of Boe worked so well - they're part of the apparent nu-mythology but you wanted to discover what they had to say. The re-direct as to Hame's motives was lovely and the death of Boe was really quite tragic because unlike the equally unlikely Cassandra there was a dignity to the character and a connection with the Doctor that didn't include getting into his pants.

This was a good episode for the casting team although it was a shame to see Lenora Crichlow (who was my original suggestion for Billie's replacement) in such a small role but she played it as wonderfully as you'd expect. There wasn't a weak link in here but of course Tennant towers. He owns the role now and the range that we're seeing here makes me totally understand people criticisms of the interpretation in the second series, the general squeeness of it all.

I think those final moments in the street as Doctor and new companion talk frankly for the first time saw him at his most poignant. Even though he was essentially recapping what we already know from the opening two series about why he's the last of his kind, you can see the loss in his eyes and I'm sure there was a deliberate through line from here, back to the moment in The End of the World when Jabe comforted the Ninth version of him and we saw Eccleston cry for the first time. Cleverly, by mentioning the Daleks, when they reappear next week, Martha is going to be all the more frightened because she knows she's facing the beasties that did away with the civilization of her new best friend.

My theories then on Boe's words: extrapolating them with Tennant's hints in the Confidential that followed are that of course he's talking about the Master, who isn't a timelord anymore, but continuing his life in other hosts - so Boe is right but so is the Doctor - there are no more timelords. Now, if whenever old beardy face shows himself the Doctor says something like - 'But I killed you - I threw you into the eye of harmony - at the heart of the Tardis - in San Francisco - during my Eighth life...' Then I'll really have the reaction Russell was probably expecting some fans to have tonight over the Macra. One of these days, I'll tell you my theory about why it was the Seventh Doctor that was involved with the Time War...


Books Let's get the cool element of this book out of the way first. Here, the Doctor saves an entire solar system. Sure, he's saved a galaxy and even the universe in the past, but there's just something really impressive about the way he strides in, apparently works out the problem and save a couple of billion people at close range. In the best scene in the novel he appears before the heads of state for the various worlds and in between the usual digressions manages to convince them to bring their planetary resources together to solve the problem which they do, gladly. Amazing.

There are two strands to the novel - the aforementioned planetary chaos brought about by a sun going supernova (the Beltempest) for reasons unknown and in the midst of that a vampiric cult leader is killing making people immortal by tapping into some mystical energy. The stories aren't completely unrelated, but both would have been enough to fill out a novel and Mortimore tries to ram them together with the Doctor at the centre of the former and Sam running headlong through the latter.

The problem is that the way they're executed it's difficult to care too much about either. For a start with the exception of said cult leader, there's nary a memorable character anywhere. With so much plot happening there's little time for the reader to empathise with anyone even though there are billions at stake. He also commits the apparent error of describing action outside of any of the main characters point of view rather than letting them experience it themselves which makes it difficult to relate to - a lot of energy is spent setting up incidental details and lyrically describing the background dropping in details which eventually aren't paid off and in the end cloud whatever the novel is about.

The author also falls into the same trap I've seen elsewhere in these novels of including an enigmatic prologue set in the pre-history of the planet which isn't vivid enough to be remembered during the following pages but does have the effect of distancing the reader from the action. It's a taste issue but the best Doctor Who stories are those in which the world and its inhabitants are discovered by the reader along with the Doctor and his plus one (or two) - and uncontextualised foreknowledge like this is just confusing. It also isn't helped by what looks like a copy editing error in which the identities of two characters are switched meaning that the one who died is suddenly alive again and mournfully burying the corpse of the character who'd previously survived.

Mortimore also mishandles the Eighth Doctor terribly. New series script editor Helen Raynor mentions that when she first began received drafts the Doctor was very much written in the Pertwee mould, all 'my dear Rose' and whatnot and that's exactly what we find in his and Sam's first scene together in which the timelord acts like he's never met a human before and there's an excruciating exchange in which he interrogates Sam about childbirth(!). From there he develops into a version of the genie from Disney's Aladdin, complete with the film references to the likes of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, before finally settling down somewhat into becoming something recognizable - even if he irritatingly keeps humming 'Flight of the Valkeries' during low fly pasts which for some reason feels less in character than the Tenth Doctor's infamous Ghostbusters riff. What?

Sam's even more of a stretch with the three years of character development from Seeing I all but ignored, the childish qualities from the earlier books back in abeyance. Here she not just irritating, she's psychotic, naively falling in with the cult leader at the first hint of danger. The idea is obviously to suggest why a perfectly normal person would want to follow the likes of David Koresh but it's as though she's never seen death before or even understand that she can't take personally everything that's happening around her, forgetting everything the Doctor's taught her. Eventually, after being subjected to a range of false memories which sadly have nothing to do with the potential alternative Sam suggested in Alien Bodies, she goes completely bonkers and enters a different state of existence which Mortimore conveys by casting her thoughts across the page, words dropping randomly with tracts of white space between them, bumping up the page count somewhat.

Then, in the closing thirty or so pages, something clicks as the explanation for why the sun is going nova is finally explained and the Doctor is placed at the mercy of a moral dilemma. The exchange between the timelord and a doctor he's befriended is lovely even managing to the work in the words 'have I that right?' and a summation of historical nutcases: 'Nero was mad. Genghis Khan was mad. Hitler was mildly paranoid. I on the other hand, am merely very, very concerned'. The actual reason for the original problem which I'll not spoil taps into the very environmental issues that are setting the political agenda now, and this book was written ten years ago.

But then it's all for naught as the story is wrapped up in a Fanthorpian finale that, with little regard for pacing stops the narrative just as its getting interesting. Instead of the expected bit of action adventure in which the Doctor comes to a decision and races to stop the cult leader from ruining everything, he sits and has a chat with the goddess Sam has apparently become, coming to no conclusions other than she's probably incurable and then within a matter of pages, Sam is cured, the emergency is over and the Tardis is off to the next thrilling adventure and this reader was wondering what they'd missed or if the copy of the novel he'd bought on Ebay was missing pages.

Next: The Face-Eater. Sounds inviting. I hope it's more legible than this.

Links for 2007-04-11 [] - Rmail

  • MetaTalk: Metafilter City Pages?
    Mathowie announces Travelfilter. Master, the empire continues to grow. In May.
  • blue cat: So the end of Life On Mars then (includes spoilers)
    Suggests a far darker interpretation of the ending which really makes you want to cry. Really, but no, please. Say that isn't so.
  • The Life of Wylie: Life On Mars: The Answers
    In depth interview with co-creator Matthew Graham in which he describes what he had in mind for the ending. Sam did die - but he's essentially in heaven. Hmm. Not sure if I like this version...
  • Only joking.

    Words Looking back at that exchange, and yes that's pretty much how it happened, I have a good memory for conversations, and I realised I actually used the phrase 'at the turn of the century'. Again. It's not the first time I've used it and whenever I do it always sounds strange coming out of my lips and looks strange judging by the reaction it gets. The majority of us still aren't used to the idea that we're living in a new century because we spent so much time in the last one and it sort of looks the same. Funny thing is most of the time I remember to say 'turn of the millenium' which is just as odd but has a certain epic quality.

    This is Stuart Ian Burns signing off.

    Life I went to sign off today. After waiting for a few minutes at the Job Centre reception, I handed the clerk my 'UB40'.
    "I'd like to sign off please."
    "Oh. Right. What's gone on?"
    "I've found a part time job. It's only at the weekends but the pay is more than I get for signing on so I thought I'd better sign off. Plus, I'm selling programmes at the Grand National for the next few days."
    "Good." He opens up the book. Turns out, inside there are instructions for signing off and a form to fill in. "Fill in these sections and hand it back. You can fill it in on the counter if you like. Here's a pen."

    I stand at the counter and begin to fill it in.

    Section one is asking for full time job details, but says I don't have to fill it in if I don't want to. I don't have the details with me and it's not full time anyway, so I don't.

    The next section is to list any other benefits. I'm not claiming any other benefits so I don't fill that in either.

    The third section wonders what other reasons I might have for signing off. I write in my illegible scrawl what I'd already told the gentleman -- "I've found a part time job. It's only at the weekends but the pay is more than I get for signing on so I thought I'd better sign off" -- in I hope a slightly more articulate way.

    The final section is a declaration stating that I've been looking for a job, that I'm not any more, and I'd like to sign off or words to that effect.

    I sign in the box.

    I hand the book back the the clerk. He checks it.
    "I couldn't fill in the first section because..." And I say everything I've just said in the last few paragraphs here.
    "That's fine. I'll get that sort out for you."
    "Really?" I'm incredulous.
    "But when I signed off last time, at the turn of the century I had to have an interview and there were more forms and ..." I seem to be asking the man for more beaucrassy.
    "No. That's everything. I'll sort it out for you."
    "Right... erm... thanks!"

    And I leave. I just didn't expect the process of signing off to be that straighforward. But I suppose they're just happy to get rid of me ...

    "Sunshine, sunshine, a happy day. Off to the cricket match I'm away. Somebody else can work for me. I'm the happy absentee." -- The Spinners

    Film With narrative and characterisation as unpredictable as an episode of Torchwood, Danny Boyle's film Sunshine drops the kind of crew that might populate an Alien film into a Solaris-style planetary mystery and develops an intelligent version of The Core. None of which is a bad thing. It's been while since we've been able to enjoy giant ships flying through deep space on the big screen without a Jedi or Vulcan piloting them and whilst it sometimes potentially threatens to nosedive into a vat of pulp, excellent performances, direction, editing and music mean that the film engrosses throughout.

    The set up couldn't be simpler and is described by Cillian Murphy in the opening moments. The sun, our sun, is dying and a mission has been sent to re-ignite it - eight astronauts in a space ship, the Icarus II, strapped to the back of a bomb which will be dropped in. The name of the ship of course suggests a secondary mission - what happened to the first Icarus and why couldn't it complete the same mission? Along the way, the crew experience the same problems that usually occupy the time of characters in these things with machine failures and argumentative computers and - well that would be telling. Suffice to say that this is the kind of film that tries to throw as much excitement in as possible.

    It's spectacle cinema at its best. Fans of the shots of Solaris in the Steven Soderbergh remake will be well served here as the camera digitally explores Sol, convincingly suggesting how its fiery eddies and solar flares might look should a future Nasa mission decide to have a look. Some of the best scenes in the film are of the astronauts in the ship's observation deck awestruck by the sight, some pushing the boundaries of a necessary light shield so that they can get a closer, cleaner look, bathing themselves in its light. Boyle's very conscious that he needs to show their amazement so that we as an audience can buy into what is after all an artificial construct.

    I don't think there's a weak link in the cast and its to their credit that this group of scientists and engineers are so three dimensional given that scriptwriter Alex Garland has seemingly deliberately divested them of any back story. Although everyone's been talking about Murphy, megastar in waiting, Chris Evans shows a depth he's until now been unable to show and its wonderful that the underrated Michelle Yeoh gets another chance to demonstrate that she's much more than a martial arts expert - there's a wonderful scene in which her character Corazon is able to see that all is not lost and life will out.

    Links for 2007-04-10 [] - Rmail

  • Lauren Laverne quits as Xfm breakfast show DJ
    To concentrate on tv work. Any chance of some singin' too?
  • Deadline Hollywood Daily » EXCLUSIVE: Harvey Very Disappointed; May Re-Release ‘Grindhouse’ As 2 Pics
    In depth discussion of what went wrong with Grindhouse -- mostly seems to centre around the selling of the concept and the length. I don't think the poster helped -- it is cool to these eyes but it just seems to busy and fails to communicate the content.
  • magickat: New Headshots
    Really striking selection of portaits.
  • In this post I'll be talking about 'Life On Mars'. So if you haven't seen the final episode, look away now.

    TVAbsolutely beautiful. For once a series has concluded on a style of full stop that actually matches the font used in the rest of the series, which actually makes you feel like you've seen its ultimate end. That actually gives you closure. That's what was wonderful about the final episode of Life On Mars - it actually seemed like the series had reached its conclusion, with most of its mysteries solved.

    The story within the episode was classic Life on Mars stuff -- a breakneck chase through the back of terraces giving way a hair brained undercover operation based around a bank robbery staged to catch a cop killer. In some ways its shame that this was only the secondary story - the set up and mood meant that reams of potential comedy had to be cast aside. Was the use of what looked like Carnforth Station, the setting for David Lean's Brief Encounter supposed to be symbolic?

    We're led to believe Sam Tyler was always in a coma. That he hadn't time traveled - not physically, he didn't have amnesia, he was mad but only in the way that most of us probably are and her certainly wasn't actually living on Mars (which was secretly my favourite idea - very Westworld).

    In a genius move, this finale presented a double bluff - that he was in fact a man from 1973, an undercover officer working against a crooked system, trying to destroy this department he'd been transferred into. As the revelations developed you truly wondered if this was the twist, helped by John Simm's engrossing performance. He was convinced and therefore so were you.

    But then as with everything else that's happened in the story it was revealed to be part of Sam's lucid dream - a way for his mind to cope with the world it had constructed for him. Part of me world have hated the creators if this had not been the case - it still would have straddled genres and made Sam horrifyingly unsympathetic. Plus it would have created a minefield of genre issues - it's a cop show, but is it still sci-fi? Psychological drama? Fantasy? Horror?

    Well alright the final end it was inspired somewhat by Close My Eyes and particularly its remake Vanilla Sky - especially with the hurling from the building (paralleling the thing Sam attempted to do in the first episode) -- I almost expected Annie to inexplicably appear up there with him. But the difference is in those films, the hero was taking a leap of faith to return to the real world. Here, Sam was throwing himself back into the dream world, because it were he felt most alive.

    Does that mean that ultimately the series is trying to say its better to live in a fantasy than deal with the grind of the real world? It depends on the interpretation; there were enough hints in the closing moments and throughout the series to suggest that there was still more going on, the glint in Dr. Frank Morgan's eye, the visitations to his bedside from older versions of people he was meeting in '1973', the fact that now and then he apparently changed something. Is he in fact still a time traveler?

    Or is all this just wishful thinking?

    A good question is how the Sam-less spin-off Ashes to Ashes is going to fit into all this. Was that a decoy to draw the audience away from the ultimate end of this story? If Hunt and the rest are a figment of Tyler's imagination, how can they exist if he's not there. That final, lovely moment when the test card girl broke the fourth wall and turned off out set reminds us though that this is just a television programme.

    They can take these fictional characters and plonk them into an eighties setting if they want to - it doesn't have to make logical sense in relation to Life On Mars. Two different series. Same thing happened to the Basil Rathbone interpretation of Sherlock Holmes who went from investigating murder on his home decade to doing the same forty years later when the Second World War broke out without nary a suggestion that Mr Wells' machine was involved.

    This has been a great series and even though this second and final year has been far grimmer than the first it's still retained all of those lovely period details and a real sense of joy. Most series would kill for a character like Gene Hunt and Philip Glenister has pitched him perfectly throughout. I've never taken to Ray or Chris but they're comic foils - perhaps if the series had continued we might have learnt more about them. But I'm really going to miss Annie and I hope Liz White gets more work soon.

    Another character has been Manchester and Salford and it's been lovely watching familiar streets and places being used as a backdrop. Only the other week, the entrance hall for a courthouse was my course base at university - I handed my dissertation in at an office not a hundred feet from where Sam Tyler had was standing. In the first series, the café area of the architecture building, somewhere I fell in love, doubled as a place where the heroes were taken hostage.

    Want to bet that Lost doesn't wrap itself up quite so succinctly?

    Low Ball

    TV Today's Radio Times apparently confirms that scheduling issues related to the FA Cup semi-final might lead Gridlock to being delayed by a week. Says the website:

    "The Doctor takes Martha to New Earth - though if the FA Cup semi-final overruns, she won't get there until next week."

    Given intricate web of repeats and relating programming that surrounds each broadcast these days it's created a headache for a range of schedulers -- obviously Confidential is easy to deal with -- they'll probably fill the gaps with outtake programmes -- but what of the various showings of Totally? And then won't this probably mean that Doctor Who Magazine and Doctor Who Adventures with both have to drop another week because they're reviewing/previewing something which hasn't been on yet?

    James commenting at probably says it best:

    "Noooooooooooooooooo!!! Please dont cancel -( I miss doctor who already! Why does football over-run everything! I mean doctor who is much better then football! I would rather see david and freema doing some brilliant acting then see some wanna-be famous people kicking a ball around for 90 minutes. No offence to people who like football! grin They cant cancel it! *Starts crying* haha."

    Who's playing anyway?

    [links broken]

    Links for 2007-04-09 [] - Rmail

  • flickr: H
  • filmlog: Spartacus (1960)
    Once classic which has dated pretty badly. Whilst the battle scenes and gladitorial school are stirring stuff, it somehow manages to turn a slave revolt against the mighty Rome into a pretty boring experience. Such a disappointment.
  • filmlog: Mona Lisa Smile (2003)
    Fairly generic 'woman's film' but good fun nonetheless -- the germ of the idea must have been 'Dead Poets Society' with girls but that's not necessarily a bad thing -- helpfully demonstrates how far the feminist debate has developed over the years.
  • CBBC Newsround: Reviewing 'Gridlock', Doctor Who episode three
    "Because this is the episode where the Doctor is told a secret that will overshadow the rest of the series. Four words long, it will send shivers up your spine." That'll be The Face of Boe saying something like 'You are not alone' you mark my words...
  • Posers

    About Since I'm lacking in any actual inspiration on this warm evening, I thought I pose you some questions, things I've been wondering about.

    (1) I've been hearing and reading some very bad things about the Gilmore Girls final season. Should I stop at the end of the sixth much as I'm planning to do when the current reruns of The West Wing scrolls around to the end of the fourth series, or soldier on regardless?

    (2) Lately (well in the last couple of days) I've been retro gaming a bit, playing the different systems in emulation that I didn't a chance to growing up but the choice of games is bewildering. What games, on any computer or video games system have you truly loved and think I should try?

    (3) What happened to Joss Stone? She used to be quite good. See also Avril Lavigne and Nelly Furtado.

    (4) Are there any truly original film makers or films? Doesn't it just seem like even the best new films are simply a post-modern mishmash of what's gone before? Wasn't the silent movie era the most exciting because everything was new and innovative?

    (5) Do you ever feel truly awake?

    Links for 2007-04-08 [] - Rmail

  • Grindhouse failure
    Grindhouse busts at the box office (at least in the US) with a $5 million opening weekend.
  • Cinematical on Grindhouse: It's Official: America Only Wants Crap at the Movies
    "It seems that the prospects for talented filmmakers who take some chances and try to create quality films that also appeal to the mainstream movie-going audience are going downhill faster than Chevy Chase on that sled in Christmas Vacation."
  • Links for 2007-04-07 [] - Rmail

  • Firefox Add-ons: Fuller Screen
    "This extension enhances the Full Screen mode into a really full screen mode, hiding the remaining toolbars and statusbar and making them visible again when the mouse pointer hits an edge of the screen."
  • Guardian Unlimited The Guide: Sylvia Patterson talks to ex-Sugababe Mutya Buena about her new solo career
    I always thought Muya was the mean and moody one, but this lovely interview suggests it's actually Keisha. Apparently the only other Babe she talks to is Siobhan and that the group have been snubbing her. God, I love this stuff.
  • Guardian Unlimited Work: Welcome to nowhere
    Andrew Bence perfectly captures my experiences in looking for a job for the past six months. The section about using the Job Centre Plus website is totally correct; it's a dog to use and the web designer should be fired.
  • Eggciting

    Elsewhere Happy Easter! I deliberately received a low egg count this year (dieting etc) and instead plumbed for this and this instead. Whilst you're sucking on a Flake, you can read my slightly disappointed and on reflection overly critical review of last night's Doctor Who here. Really, it was great, it's just that my expectation were too high. I should also point you to its amazing Wikipedia page, where, within a couple of hours, all of the various references had been researched and revealed.