It should have been 'Daleks Take Manhattan'.

Elsewhere I've reviewed this week's Doctor Who here. It felt like half a story, which is was. This reads like half a review, which it is. Oh well.

Daleks In Manhattan.

TV I'm not someone who tends to nitpick. I really enjoyed last week's episode and it wasn't until later when I read some of the reviews that the inconsistencies and potential plot holes became apparent - and even then I don't think any of them spoiled it for me. Because you know. The Macra. Sometimes I'll work through a rationalization for something or I'll simply let it go because the whole thing has been so damn entertaining. I didn't even notice the character reading a copy of the Radio Times.

Unfortunately, I think I'm going to have to watch Daleks In Manhattan again because about ten minutes in, a third of my brain was mildly distracted to such an extent that I think most of anything else nearly passed me by. Here is the shot. See if you can spot why …

… so bless her, Helen Raynor travels out to New York to research what it would have been like in the 1930s and produces some really poetic descriptions of how low people went and the extent to which humanity was for sale. The design department work flat out to create Hooverville, this collection of tents and agony clinging together wondering how bad life can get. The reliable Hugh Quarshie is producing a commanding performance as Solomon, the breaking of the bread symbolically replaying the choice his namesake had to make in the bible over a child and one third of my brain is thinking …

"Was that a football goal? I suppose it must be if this was filmed in a park in Cardiff. I wonder how they didn't notice that. Did they notice it and decide it would have been too expensive to paint out? Or did they just not notice right through filming to editing to colour timing to composing to well all of the other processes before it hit the screen. But what if it wasn't a football goal. I'll have to check it again when I've finished recording. Just enjoy the episode. But it could have been a soccer goal. Perhaps it was supposed to be there. Is this going to be the meme of the year - subliminal anachronisms across time? What if soccer was quite popular in depression era New York - it's easier to play than American Football - you just need a large round ball. Surely they would have played baseball. Unless it was just something they didn't notice …"

Etc. Etc.

Another third was distracted from the opening few minutes dealing with the consequences of the Radio Times cover in the real world. Was it going to be the cliffhanger ending of the episode? The Dalek/Human hybrid. Had the production team sold out the big surprise ending for a magazine cover? There was enough in the accompanying article to indicate that they had, but scuttle bug in the last couple of days suggested that actually it was smoke screen for some even greater shock. It's a real shame then that in the end this turned actually to be the cliffhanger and gave the episode the same texture that The Sixth Sense had for me first time around having worked out the twist from the trailer. So instead of asking 'Why're they doin' that?' I was instead thinking 'They're doing that because of this.'

Luckily, since I have a decent brain capacity there was still enough juice in the other third to actually quite enjoy what was in essence a pretty old school slice of Doctor Who, a Hartnell story with production values. The opening ten minutes featured exactly the kind of edutainment you might find in the opening episode of a Lucarroti-style historical with the Doctor revealing the era and its problems. Its exactly what the series should be about - stepping into history having a look around. In recent years a shorthand has crept into use in these situations, but for once the Doctor was actually given the chance to offer a lecture and it really helped to set the scene.

"The opening ten minutes featured exactly the kind of edutainment you might find in the opening episode of a Lucarroti-style historical with the Doctor revealing the era and its problems. "

Another trait of early Who was the grand shift between locations, the gang traveling across a world. Then it was because they generally had to strike a set on a weekly basis and it meant that by sometimes changing everything they could add value. Translating this story into a seven-parter, you could almost imagine 'Episode One - The Poor In Manhattan' 'Episode Two - The Sewer' 'Episode Three - A Dance With Death' and so on, the narrative generally staying on the Doctor and Martha except for the cutaways to Daleks. And again, in keeping with those old stories, we knew who the main adversary was before the timelord, which is something that doesn't usually happen these days (I think Boomtown is an exception).

The Doctor spent most of the story trying to discover who his adversary was, almost dragged through through the story, being shown all of the plot details that need to be established ready for the Evolution of the Daleks. In that way it did feel like the first proper Dalek story - for once they're not simply trying to blast their way to victory using sheer force but have instead a proper plan for their survival, even if it chucks out exactly who they are and all of the arguments they've had previously about being the supreme being just as they are. I loved the moment when they actually paid lip service to this, rationalizing something which actually caused a war in the Eighth Doctor audio Blood of the Daleks.

Where the episode parted company with the earlier era was that with the exception of the aforementioned crossbar the sense of place was beautiful, the trip to New York for background plates being money well spent. It's a pity that the budget wouldn't stretch to allowing up to see the travelers walking through the mass of the city but actually it seems right that the Doctor should stay on the edges in these kinds of stories, fitting into the gaps. But the Empire State interiors with their art deco style were beautifully realised, as was the back stage of the theatre (shades of Weng Chiang actually). I mean if you look at the costumes, its amazing what is actually being realised on a tv budget - the almost unrecognizable Miranda Raison sparkily making a perfect angel.
"It's a pity that the budget wouldn't stretch to allowing up to see the travelers walking through the mass of the city but actually it seems right that the Doctor should stay on the edges in these kinds of stories, fitting into the gaps."

And this was all tied together, not with a bit of stock music from the radio archives, but with a wonderful score that just found the right balance between the more traditional incidental spots and the more evocative tracks; Murray Gold who I'm actually beginning to admire as a composer borrowing extensively from Woody Allen's playbook. I love that the new series is confident enough to embrace contemporary music and it just seems perfect that the Tardis doors should open to the sound of Gershwin. I do wonder what the whole episode would have been like had it been scored just like an Allen film but I can't think of any jazz music that could underscore the creepier moments featuring the pig blokes - and if you trying an drop in some faux-saxophones it can sound very jokey and very wrong.

But in the end, my favourite moment? "They always survive, while I lose everything."

See you next week, Helen.

Links for 2007-04-20 [] - Rmail

  • filmlog: Art School Confidential (2006)
    Unfairly treated by critics this dark satire on the art world is as good as any of Zwigoff's other films if not better. I'll be very surprised if this isn't re-evaluated in a few years for being the post-modern masterpiece it clearly is.
  • filmlog: Chinatown (1974)
    Really, they don't make them like they used to. Despite being fundamentally a work of pulp fiction, its exquisitely shot and thematically consistent. Too many great lines of dialogue or scenes to list. Probably one of my favourite films. Now.
  • Remembrances of Times Past

    Elsewhere I've written about the first time I saw a production of Hamlet here (or what I could remember of it).

    09 Merfyn Cave

    Hamlet played by Merfyn Cave
    Directed by Mr Gleave

    It's become apparent that if I'm going to reach my target I'm going to have to include Hamlets that I've already met, no matter how hazy my memory of them. The first time I saw the play produced was at my secondary school, the Blue Coat in Liverpool. The programme which sits before me (illustrated above) doesn't say what date this was although I'm guessing it would be in 1992/1993 the year I left school. The production was cast from students who were in the first year of their A-Levels and I was one year older than them you see.

    My school was lucky enough to have a main school hall that featured exactly the kind of stage that you might find in a theatre or every school-based film you care to mention. Remember the scene in Love Actually with the Nativity with the lobster? We had one of those. I think it might even have been extended forward whilst I was there. Oh and there was also a churchy pipe organ which was never utilized during these sporadic Shakespeare performances, which is a shame.

    I remember it being a very lengthy production - I don't think the whole text was included but I imagine it must have stretched on for at least three hours and it was pretty grueling sitting on the typical wooden chairs usually used for assemblies. Fortinbras is listed in the Dramatis Personae so you never know. The programme suggests that there was a interval of ten minutes which in retrospect doesn't seem long enough. I went with my Dad and I know that he fell asleep.

    I think the most remarkable thing was the production design. The set designer, Stephen Simpson, who worked on most, if not all of the school productions tended to create something that filled the stage in our main school hall. In the previous year, for Macbeth, that was a giant green set with steps and small caves and hillocks.

    For Hamlet he created a giant white space covered in a black grid - imagine a negative version of Star Trek's holodeck and within this the scenes would proceed with thrones and table and whatever was needed ushered in and out. The reason for this design became obvious at the death of Polonius - when Hamlet thrust his blade into the man, the white walls suddenly flashed blood red underlining the point of no return. Amazingly effective.

    Inevitably I also remember most vividly Merfyn Cave who played Hamlet. I think he must have lived the role. I don't mean that he murdered his girlfriend's father and his mother married his uncle, I mean that when we were in the Art Room together he would approach me sometimes and fix me in the eye and quote speeches and snatches of dialogue at me. It must have been his way of remembering, but it was downright eerie particularly since he had these very serious eyes, which on reflection he could have been borrowing from a young Al Pacino.

    I'd love to say that this was when I fell in love with the play and Shakespeare but it really wasn't. Even though I was studying Othello and Measure for Measure for A-Level which is what prompted this viewing I hadn't yet attuned to the pentameter or even begun to understand the implications of the story. It's a difficult play and I was still trying to work out the motivations of Angelo and Iago without throwing the likes of Claudio into the mix.

    It's still fun to look through the programme though and be reminded of people I haven't seen in nearly sixteen years and to wonder what they're doing now and to wish that I'd paid better attention so that I could tell you whether Zoe Johnson was a good Ophelia or if Pete Bouvier really was as wasted as I suspect he must have been as Fortinbras given his charismatic appearance as Ebinarza in that year's pantomime. Two of the other teachers, Mr Preston and Mr Crighton were the grave diggers. That must have been a laugh.

    Update! I've found this rather good article from the school magazine that fills in some of the gaps.

    Links for 2007-04-19 [] - Rmail

  • filmlog: Swimming Pool (2004)
    Another meditation on the nature of fiction and film reality from Ozon. Fails to completely convince despite spirited playing by Sagnier and dancing from Rampling because of an uneasiness during the many English language scenes.
  • "Rerecord not fade away."

    Life I have something to say and it's taken a few days for me to pluck up the courage to talk about it. On Monday morning, my dvd recorder died. It was a Panasonic E55 (or something) and we'd been together since the January sales in Boots the Chemist in 2004. My parents had gifted me a different recorder from Sanyo (or someone) for Christmas but that hadn't gone well and I received what would affectionately become known as the Panny in exchange. In those good old days it was a miracle - being able to record programmes onto a dvd with a picture sharper than VHS. The ability to start watching Have I Got News For You whilst it was being still being recorded.

    Recently though, the signs were becoming all the more apparent, it hadn't been well for a while. For the past six months Panny had randomly begun rejecting the CD-Rs which it had previously loved and become ratty when asked to finalize anything. Sometimes it would sit and judder or end a recording before it's time, cutting off the ends of programmes and ignoring the setting it had been given. Then on Monday it began to power off when it should have begun recording and that was the last straw. I checked online for remedies but the price was too high and the time taken for repair to long. It was time to put it out of its misery.

    So on Tuesday I visited Richer Sound in Liverpool and bought a brand new Panasonic M25 (or something). Not quite the Rolls Royce of the range (no hard disk recording) and about what I still can't afford it. Nevertheless it accepts a vast range of different types of blank disc and has a built in Freeview tuner. So not only will it record on pretty much anything, all you have to do is select whatever it is you want to timeshft from the electronic programme guide and it changes the channel at the right time and does exactly that for you. I know you spacemen with Tivo or Sky+ will laugh at this backward technology, but for cavemen like me, this is magic. I think we can really make a go of it.

    "I thought you were going with the Doctor." "So did I..."

    TV Outpost Gallifrey brings news, via of July's dvd release, a boxset entitled Tegan Tales.

    "The box set is slated to include Time-Flight, Arc of Infinity and Snakedance. No cover or special feature information is available at this time."

    Not sure where the story details are from because Play's sales page says only:

    "Join the Doctor as he ventures through time and space, thwarting evil where ever it rears its head!"

    What like the dvd release schedule? Time-Flight AND Timelash in the same year?

    Given the propensity for the releases to coincide with characters or monsters from the new series, can we expect Janet Fielding to re-essay her role as this year's returning companion or is Mr Saxon really the Mara or Omega? Perhaps 42 is set on Concorde.

    Does anyone know if Martin Clunes has recorded a commentary?

    [all links broken :(]

    Links for 2007-04-18 [] - Rmail

  • Cinematical: Comment of the Week: Kevin Smith Vs. a 'Cinematical Jacktard,' Erik Calls a Dumbass a Dumbass
    Kevin responds to another of his online critics: "Yes - when a five million dollar pic makes twenty five million, that's considered a bomb."
  • The National Archives: Disappearance of the Cold War spies Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess
    'This file contains correspondence relating to the potential risks posed by Maclean´s participation in the USA Atomic Energy Committee and also correspondence and reports on the career paths of both Burgess and Maclean.'
  • Links for 2007-04-17 [] - Rmail

  • Lily Allen has cancelled her US tour -- and is brutally honest as to the reasons why...
    "I don't think I have been giving my best performances recently. I've been getting really drunk because I've been so nervous about doing bad shows, and I don't want people spending money on a going to see a show that isn't the best it could be."
  • Jon Ronson: A timetable for murder
    "Joe's son got off quite lightly - with probation, a 5,000-word essay on the effects of school shootings across America, 100 hours of community service, and some anger regression therapy."
  • ScouseVeg » This Week In History
    "20th April 1999: Columbine massacre"
  • "The spirit of the time shall teach me speed."

    Liverpool Life This lunchtime I strolled up to Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral for the first of a series of lunchtime lectures celebrating 800 years of Liverpool History. They're being held over the next six weeks in the Lady Chapel and are a collaboration between the Cathedral and Liverpool Universities Centre for Lifelong Learning. They're free to attend and the Chapel was filled with people, the seating configuration changed to a Horseshoe around a table at the side. I ended up moving slightly because I had my back to the altar and it simply felt very odd. I'm not superstitious or that religious but you never know.

    The first lecture was on the Letter's Patent written by King John in 1207 that founded the city, or at least advertised the idea of there being a place here called Liverpool. It was given by Paul Booth, a Lecturer in Medieval Studies, and he managed to present what could have been fairly dry academic material in a friendly accessible way, cleverly meshing in some autobiography to keep things interesting. He explained that since he was from Birkenhead he's always been a guest to the city and he talked about visiting the docks as a child and looking around the city centre which then had such marvels as the Overhead Railway and how exotic it all seemed.

    The main body of the lecture was split into two sections - the contents of the Patent and the geographical implications. Although we take the foundation of the city from King John's advert, the area didn't begin to take shape until a few decades later under the reign of Henry III and it was nearly a century before it became a recognizable destination. His thesis, in opposition to some of his colleagues, was that despite its diminutive size Liverpool was still a fairly prominent town - he mentioned that as early as the fourteenth century it had two members of parliament which is something even Manchester didn't have. He also presented us with a list of the 145 tenants living in the area at the time and it included such surnames as Goldsmith and Dyer which indicates that quality goods were being created in our patch.

    Perhaps the more fascinating section for me concerned the six initial streets on which the city would eventually be founded. This was apparently the frame that most places were designed around and what is amazing is that, although I'm not sure that Liverpool is considered a medieval city in the same bracket as York or Nottingham, by tracing upwards through history it becomes apparent that those six streets are still in use today. One of the earliest maps available is from the early-18th century and even though the population had only grown to 600 or so the map of the city is already taking shape with familiar street names and place such as Moorfields are already there.

    But what's really clever is that this map can still be used in conjunction with the title deeds of a Liverpool family who lived in the 1300s, the Moores of Bankhill so that we can discover which of the six streets have survived. And far from being some minor roads in the suburbs they're big recognizable names and places in what could still be described as the administrative or business area of Liverpool (at least for now). Within those deeds there are references to a 'Morestrete' which has become Tithebarn Street. Also in there are Dale Strete, Castell Strete, Chapell Strete, a 'Banck Strete' which is now Water Street and 'Jogeler Strete' is now High Street, the one which runs along the side of the Town Hall.

    What I've just noticed now is that Dale Street, Castle Street, Water Street and High Street fan out to become a cross with what would be Liverpool Town Hall at the centre. According to the wikipedia, the Hall was built twenty five years after this map was prepared but there is a building illustrated in the place where it would be. A disused church? The fact that I'm speculating, inferring and extrapolating means that Mr. Booth and the designers of these talks have done what they probably set out to achieve - get people interested in local history. I'm already thinking about taking a trip to the library to see if I can find out what that building was that stood in the place where the Town Hall is now situated.

    A guide in .pdf format with further details can be downloaded here.

    Links for 2007-04-16 [] - Rmail

  • filmlog: White Noise (2005)
    Eye searing bad film that actually gave me indigestion. Director Sax tries his best with the material, but the pacing is horrifyingly slow and the script perfunctory relying on predictable shocks. Has the ring of a failed television pilot script.
  • filmlog: Whale Rider (2002)
    Has the ring of John Sayles in a 'Roan Inish' mood. Carefully discusses the importance of respecting traditions whilst at the same time modifying them to take into account whatever hiccups might occur. Absolutely charming.
  • filmlog: The Consequences of Love (2004)
    Whilst sometimes the style gets in the way of substance in general this is an engrossing tale beautifully inscribed. Expect a US remake some time in the near future with a clearer structure and Stanley Tucci in the title role.
  • filmlog: Batman Begins (2005)
    Nolan and Smith use an interesting editing style that almost fragments some scenes to their bare bones, just slightly outside what could be considered 'continuity' which means that an awful lot happens within the running time.
  • filmlog: Moog (2004)
    Less comprehensive than it could be (whither The BBC Radiophonic Workshop?) and chronologically random this is never less than interesting, helped by some wonderful interview. The Rick Wakeman section at least makes it worth watching.
  • Code Unknown

    Film Attempting to get away from the compulsive news coverage of the repulsive massacre, I finally got around to watching the film version of The Da Vinci Code. I've not read the book and the closest I've been to a Dan Brown text is an amateur radio adaptation I heard during a class at university of Angels and Demons.

    That meant I was really visiting the story cold with only the words of the critics who circled the film on its release and particularly those who went in for the kill. It was greeted by a range of one star reviews and controversy since some newspaper film reviews were apparently ordered to add a couple of stars to that lest they incur the fury of a distributor ready to pull access.

    All of which meant I was ready for the longest two and half hours of my life in which I'd spend most of the running time shouting my disapproval which regular readers will realise is usually my home response to the really bad movies (usually at the cinema I sit down and my seat and sigh under my breath).

    But somewhere in the middle of the first half hour a strange thing happened. I began to enjoy myself and to some degree I was engrossed in the story. I know. Considering that Paul Bettany's been employed to play an albino monk and Tom Hanks spends most of the film with a fixed look of concern on his face, I should really, really be annoyed.

    Except Audrey Tautou's really quite good as the agent and Sir Ian McKellan shows that he'll make any script and any set of bizarre claims sound plausible. It's also a visually arresting film, and although at times it could be accused of looking like a beer commercial the integration of flashbacks and the integration of Hank's character's thought processes with the environment is a neat trick.

    It's too long certainly and some of the action sequences fall flat -though the backwards driving of the smart car through the streets is fun, too many of the interminable dashes on foot are less so. To an extent it's a riot for the wrong reasons - my favourite line from Hanks is: 'I need to get to a library', specifically 'Chelsea Library' when the British Library at St Pancras is clearly closer (perhaps they couldn't get permission to film).

    All of which makes me wonder why the critics ran after it with pitchforks quite so much. Perhaps it was the Cannes launch, the hype, the smugness - go in expecting to hate thing and you generally will - which is something I learned week in and out watching Torchwood. Some complained that it amounts to little more than a couple of people standing around in dusty rooms spouting inconsistent fantasies and fiction.

    I think the problem was that for all its apparent complexity and reliance on religious revelation it is in essence a treasure hunt film with a range of clues taking Hanks and Tautou to the next plot point. If you assume that the conjecture surrounding Christ's paternity is merely a mcguffin in the same order of the Ark of the Covenant it becomes an Indiana Jones adventure given the trappings of a religious thriller, with the Hanks a more serious version of that tomb raider, Opus Dai filling the role of the Nazis and Tatou as the 'Jones girl'. It's a boys own story, plain and simple and on that level it's worth a look.

    "Seeking the bubble reputation"

    I'm always just slightly behind in reading weekend newspapers -- there's always many more words than can possibly be covered in those forty-eight hours even after skipping through articles about relationships, travel and property and everything else which is currently irrelevant. Now that I'm actually working at the weekend, that's going to become even more accute. I won't know what's happened in the world until at least Monday afternoon.

    Today, I was actually reading Saturday's Guardian from the 14th April (Grand National Day) and fittingly that meant this rather wonderful piece by Jonathan Bate which illuminates William Shakespeare's passage over the years into become a legend and being tagged with the description 'genius' taking in his veneration by actors and academics alike.

    If asked I will say that I'm a Shakespeare fan, in much the same way as I might describe myself as a Doctor Who fan or that I like films. A bit. I've as many different Shakespeare productions as anything else and like those other 'interests'. And like those other loves, I can't always quite put my finger on why I'm addicted. I do agree with the reasons usually trotted out by talking heads in television documentaries -- 'They're such great stories', 'The language is amazing' and 'He's a genius'.

    But along with those forty odd works, there's also four hundred years of history to enjoy. As Bate somewhat describes, you can understand British history through the changes in attitudes to the plays, how they've been performed and the audiences that saw them. Charles I's decree that women should be allowed to take up the acting profession demonstrates a change in society and frankly its amazing that it took so long for you to get the vote after that. As Shakespeare is oft to demonstrate, nearly all men are pigs, especially the ones who make laws about things.

    I think though that it's more to do with the fact that even though the words and the plot are the same, every production is different and more than any other writer its possible for a director and his actors to put their own personal stamp on them. I've seen dozens of Hamlets and each and every time, although the text is the same they're all different, they all resonate in different ways. It's simply fascinating intellectually to compare and contrast the interpretations to see who thought what was important.

    Plus, in the media age, as this blog demonstrates, it attracts the collector in me. Even though I've eight complete works already, some bought, some presents, I'm gathering the Arden editions of the plays because of the notes and appendixes which often include the original texts such as the Ur-Hamlet that Shakespeare used as his sources. Then there are the collections of criticism, the biographies. On top of that there are the many hundred audio and visual recordings of the plays from the BBC Shakespeare (radio and television) through Argo to ArkAngel. Some people collect vinyl or music boxes or badges. I collect Shakespeare productions.

    You would expect on hearing all of this, that I'd seen or at least read all of the plays in the canon. Not a bit of it. I'm working my way through my BBC Shakespeare boxset (in production order minus the histories -- oh yes) and greeting many of them for the first time. Just as I've not seen or heard all of the television Doctor Who (let alone the spin-offs), I think I've only actually come in contacted with about half of the bard's work.

    Some of this is simply because the same twenty-odd plays tend to be in production at the expense of others. But also its through avoidance, because I can't imagine that the likes of As You Like It can be as good as the version I have in my head through years of reading about them. Of course they can -- they're by Shakespeare, but there's also the matter of seeing them for the first time in a decent production. Thankfully my first As You Like It, from the BBC, featured the sexy Helen Mirren in a silly hat and David Prowse whose performance was strangely moving for all the wrong reasons.

    There's a lovely moment at the end when Mirren delivers to camera the closing speech which features the line 'If I were, that is, a woman' and she pauses slightly highlighting the irony of a line that Shakespeare wrote that would originally have been played by a boy, being read now by, well, Helen Mirren. The viewer is sharing a joke with Mirren at text's expense. That's another reason I love Shakespeare, watching actors and directors cope with moments when attitudes have raced ahead of what's been written.

    So Happy Birthday Mr Shakespeare, whether it was yesterday or today or whenever you were actually born. Thank you for over a decade of entertainment and intellectual stimulation and for inspiring one of the biggest laughs I had in an English class when the teacher decided to show us Roman Polanski's mad as cheese film version of Macbeth. For the amazingly intimate Measure for Measure I saw at the Edinburgh Festival in 1998 when I once again inapropriately fell in love with the actress playing Isabella for the umpteenth time (see also Kate Nelligan in the BBC Shakespeare). And for Hamlet. All four hours of it.

    I Grok ...

    Appeal Does anyone have a Spock invite going spare?

    Links for 2007-04-15 [] - Rmail

  • SFX: Big Finish interview
    Big Finish's Doctor Whoanthology editors talk about their work. Interestingly mentions Gary Russell in the same breath as other new series writers. He's been story editing but does this indicate he has an episode to himself in the next series?
  • Neigh-sayers

    Life It's 4:15 on Saturday afternoon and I'm standing what looks to be about twenty feet away from the finishing post of the Grand National 2007 and the crowd is booing. The race is supposed to start but some of the horses and standing with their back to the back to the starting tape which isn't really conducive to a great run. There's already been one false start already and people are getting impatient, clutching their betting slips, hoping for a win. And booing. I hadn't expected that - having been watching the race almost every year since childhood.

    I'm feeling an adrenalin rush, a burst of excitement, which is good because I've been awake since a quarter to six. As a way of pulling in some funds, I've worked during the National this year selling race cards, which for the uninitiated are list of the competitions happening at a horse race meet. Since it is the National, these were special, a glossy booklet, filled with adverts and editorial along with the all important information. Over the following three days I notice that some do treat them as a souvenir of their trip to the races, and others as a functional item, something to be discarded.

    Standing beside me is Annie, my friend for the day, who I met just that morning, and she looks really tired, about as tired as I feel. It's been really hard work. Although in sales terms its really simple - one type of merchandise, one price I wasn't quite prepared for the sheer number of people and the speed of the transactions as punters said how many they needed, proffered the cash and waited for the change which I would have to calculate and produce from the pocket strapped about my waist.

    Just before the race, I'd glanced over at the race card of the man standing next to me trying to find out the number of the horse I'd bet on 'Le Duc' (which I'd picked because it sounded a bit French). He'd noticed me and lets me have a better look. I need to watch out for number forty. I tell Annie that the closest I've otherwise been to a horse race is Seabiscuit but some niggle deep down suggests this isn't true. Mum tells me later that when I was baby I attended York Races which I don't remember - but I can't remember half of anything that happened to me before the age of five so I'm not surprised.

    The easiest day was Thursday - much calmer, with the customers somewhat more relaxed - because it was amateur day perhaps. That was good as we needed time to get used to the processes, of how best to sort the money and keep track of accurate selling. I was part of what would be called the Sefton team working by the Ormskirk Road entrance. Marufa, Chris, Antonia and me, plus Jimmy, our supervisor who would work like a demon throughout the three days replenishing our stock when needed and giving us words of encouragement and just being nice which goes a long way. Annie joined us on this final day providing much needed support.

    It's one of those occasions when four random strangers instantly bond into a team and even though as usual I contracted a touch of the verbals, we got on well which really helped as the days pushed on. I was sorry at the end of the final day that I wasn't able to say goodbye properly. They went to look for ice cream, I didn't because, well, I'm not sure why, and I never saw them again. But Annie was still around and we kept each other company as we physically flagged, knowing that it would be a shame to leave the course and miss the race once we were there even though that's exactly what we felt like doing.

    The race is underway and the crowd are apoplectic - the in-course commentators are excitedly trying to cover the race as best they can but all eyes are fixed on the giant screen beaming pictures of the end of the course that can't otherwise be seen by people in the main stands. I look backwards as I always do at these kinds of events and see a wave of expectant faces and I understand why people gambling on these larger horse races. There's the possibility of winning some money, certainly, but I bet there's also the subliminal chance to believe passionately in something even for these brief moments, all of your hopes resting on four legs.

    Ladies Day, Friday 13th was much busier and as predicted by a range of people I spoke to attended mostly by men. This gave a hint as to what it would be like on the day of the main race and in our corner of the course there was farewell anarchy as people massed about our little stands almost throwing money at us. The sales began at ten o'clock and I literally didn't look up until five to two when I had the chance to ask someone for the time - which is why when everyone I spoke to afterwards said - 'I bet you saw some sights' I could honestly say that I hadn't. Although the 1970s seem to be back in fashion, possibly thanks in part to Life On Mars.

    Back at the race, the horses reach the home straight for the first time and the crowd stretches upwards for a better view; I can't see a thing, not even the screen but I don't care, I'm just happy to be here. My horse has pulled up near the beginning of the race but I remember I've bet on a second - Joes Edge and there's still a chance. Earlier in the day we'd shared an each way punt in an earlier race so that we could put a bet on at one of the bookies on the edge of the course. That nag had cantered in last but at least it gave me a chance to rip up the voucher in disgust, something I'd always wanted to do. It's a shame though because it would have made a nice souvenir.

    As promised, Grand National Day was even busier, but I was more mobile, weaving through the crowds which I found easier because I could focus my attention on one customer at a time and there was less likelihood of a queue. I generally carried a pile of the cards under my arm holding one in the air, 'Race cards' I shouted, 'Three pounds' I was reminded of the scene in Jean-Luc Godard's À bout de souffle were Jean Seberg does something similar with the New York Herald Tribune. By half past one we sell out and on the Jimmy's radio can be heard a range of voices saying - 'Has anyone got any more boxes?' We pack up and head back to the base office, the crowds gathering instead around our once rivals, the Racing Post and TimeForm card sellers.

    Joes Edge Falls.

    I really enjoyed working at the Grand National finally and I'd do it again. There's a real sense of occasion and you get to see the event from a different perspective. With our staff passes, with the exception of the horse and trainer related buildings we had the run of the course and went through the stands and VIP areas taking in the sights and sounds. It was amazing to hear how much people had paid for the experience and we were receiving a fraction of it for free. There were seething, intimidating masses of people around food stands and bar areas. Our own apparent hard work was put into perspective on seeing the mobile Fosters lager sellers, people with five gallon barrels strapped to their backs, plastic cup holders on their sides, literally serving pints to people out in the open, also, like us having to take money and provide change from a waist pouch.

    The horses reach the winning stretch and exactly like the film, the crowd are shouting out the name of the horse they're hoping will win. I look up to the sky and it's a shade of deep blue - I've never been to one of the tropical climates and this looks as close as I'll ever be, the sun as bright as I remember it being through those long hot summers of childhood. In April. Throughout the three days, my pale skin has turned maroon. It might look healthier but it doesn't seem right to me and I can't wait to return to my usual pasty faced self.

    Annie reaches up on her tiptoe to get a better view - I try that too but it doesn't help me either. I can't see a thing as the horses dash across the finishing post. We decide to leave very soon afterwards to try and beat the queue to the exit. As we run into the crowds we realise we've hit the main route for the horse to leave the course. But then Annie spots that a viewing gallery reaches across and we can run up and over. At the centre, at the top we stop. Below us, the winning horse is striding through, the jockey smiles and shakes the hands of passersby. It's an extraordinary sight. I feel privileged to have seen that and everything else at close range for once in my life.

    Next year -- the boat race.

    "The one piece of advice that someone told me and I’ve found invaluable is to always carry a notebook around with you."

    Books SFX Magazine interviews Big Finish Short Trips editors Ian Farrington and Joseph Lidster:

    "You’d be amazed how many pitches we get that involve Doctor Who ‘continuity’ – it’s an assumption I can understand, but it’s not really what we’re after. The writers who leap out and get noticed are the ones who bring their own ideas to the table, not a sequel to someone else’s story. So, try to do something different. But, contradictorily perhaps, I’d say be aware of conventions and rules. If you want to write for a particular range or editor, then read what they’ve done before and pay attention to what sort of stories they do. For example, if you want to write a story for Doctor Who – which is essentially a family franchise – then it’s probably best not to think about a story that involves sex, swearing and violence."

    Interestingly in answering the question about who's written for the range, although they unforgivable omit the work of Mr. Perryman, they mention Gary Russell in the same breath as a range of other new series writers. Gary's been doing some script editing for them but does this mean he's also finally getting to write his own television episode in series four?

    Macra Economics

    Trickier to sort out the rating splits this week with the show starting half way through the fifteen minutes. But here goes.

    Time......BBC One.............ITV1..........BBC Two......Four...............Five
    19:30 .. 6.6 (35.5%) .. 4.6 (24.7%) .. 1.1 ( 6.1%) .. 1.4 ( 7.6%) .. 0.8 ( 4.1%)
    19:45 .. 7.8 (39.7%) .. 4.1 (20.9%) .. 1.1 ( 5.3%) .. 1.4 ( 7.3%) .. 1.0 ( 4.9%)
    20:00 .. 8.2 (39.8%) .. 4.6 (22.4%) .. 1.1 ( 5.1%) .. 1.3 ( 6.2%) .. 0.8 ( 3.9%)
    20:15 .. 7.7 (36.3%) .. 4.9 (23.1%) .. 1.1 ( 5.0%) .. 1.6 ( 7.3%) .. 0.7 ( 3.4%)

    Average: 8.0 (39.5%)

    Worth noting too that the show gained 1.9 million viewers on the football. Who was it who said 'to be fair the football will probably be watched by more people'? Come one own up... Nyer, told you so. That said, oddly, the share was the same which means that more people were watching tv after that time overall. But ITV are having an awful time of it with their Grease show in particular onto a loser -- I think there's even less people watching that than Celebrity Wrestling ...