Made of Steel.

Books Oddly published before the new series had even begun but handily set after The Lazarus Experiment and featuring oblique references to how Martha's family are asking awkward questions about her new friend, Terrance Dicks's Made of Steel is the perfect stopgap in this short hiatus between episodes. With action taking place in only a few locations with a small group of characters the goal was obviously to produce something that works on the narrative level of a typical episode and it totally succeeds with a central relationship that's true to the third series and a story that logically explains the presence of nu-Cybermen without retconning anything that we've learned before.

The author's note just behind the cover says 'In 1968, he began working on Doctor Who. He has written over fifty Doctor Who novels and has been a prolific author of books for children' and it shows - this is a great little adventure which in some ways is even more inventive than the television programme with a storyline that wraps in on itself, apparently throw away scenes becoming vitally important in the conclusion and characterization that manages to accomplish in just a few lines more than a certain recent two parter did on television.

The storyline then (as described on the back cover): various random bits of technology are being stolen from locations as diverse as shopping malls, army bases and government ministries and it becomes apparent that not all of the Cybermen where sucked through the void at the close of Doomsday may be preparing to mass another invasion. The Doctor inadvertently drops into the timeline at an opportune moment and after falling in with the army, attempts to discover who these metal men are and how he's going to try and stop them.

In some ways, Dicks is predictably going to be at home here, what with this being an army and their scientific advisor. The likes of Captain Sarandon and Major Burton are precisely the kinds of people that might be turned out by UNIT, wise to the alien threat and knowing that they need a certain timelord's help. The search for him here mirrors what went on in Aliens of London and once again it's not hard to wonder if having this version of the Doctor exiled again on purpose wouldn't be such a bad thing - certainly a lot of fun is had as he attempts to deal with the contemporary technology in internet cafes and whatnot.

There are some lovely moments that are perfectly old school, like the longer suffering PC having to deal with the discover of the TARDIS and the Cybermen and what he'll be telling his boss about the appearance and disappearance of both. The Cybermen too are much closer to the Mondas variety, their dialogue far more sophisticated, with a certain amount of infighting as to whether the cyberleader is taking the correct action, one of the subordinates displaying a real lust for glory, emotional traits neatly explained by their origin - formerly human and therefore lightly emotional. Sadly none of them make a fist and say 'Excellent'. Next time maybe.

The book also captures the new series good verbal humour well; when the Cybermen's base of operations is revealed it's a cue for a stream of jokes as the establishment's expense. You really couldn't imagine them giving permission for an actual television episode to be filmed in the place should this material be included in the script (my favourite being 'Well, at least someone's found a use for it at last!'). Martha's ability to look danger in the eye and tweak it on the nose is all there too, especially when she's dealing with the Cybermen: 'Not another invasion. What is it this time - giant hippos? Intelligent wildebeest? Alien llama maybe?'

Dicks has said on numerous occasions that he thinks of the Doctor as being the same man whoever plays it and essentially always writes him the same way and that it's the interpretation of the actor which changes things. Which is odd, because he nails Tennant's Doctor perfectly, the fixating on little things, getting over excited about others, but also that innate ability to break explosively from joy to tragedy. But there's also that understanding of the bigger picture. At one point he makes a decision that costs lives but understands and explains that he saved many more in the long run - you could almost imagine that given the choice at the end of The Parting of the Ways he would have flipped the switch and wiped out the Earth in a way that the Northern survivor-guilt stricken jug-eared version couldn't. Despite his outward attitude sometimes, he's not a coward.

To a degree, the book also demonstrates the apex of the problem that the new series is having with the new companion; remove the visit to her old hospital stomping ground, find and replace all mentions of the words 'Martha' and 'Jones' with 'Rose' and 'Tyler' and you'd be hard pushed to say that the characters are all that different. Which isn't a criticism of Dicks who captures Freema's portrayal pretty well, that fearlessness. If there's something you could point to as a key difference, its that Martha has much more innate awareness of when the Doctor needs her help and when she should stay away and leave him to it - as occurs when he's taken away by the army and she makes herself scarce. They're less of a 'team' more of an autonomous collective. Or something.

I'd best stop here before the review becomes longer than the book, suffice to say that Made of Steel is a lovely, potentially nostalgic little read and a bargain at a couple of quid. This is certainly something I'd like to see more of in the future, writers that have a real history with the show being given an opportunity to write for the new iteration. It would be a shame if Dicks never got a chance to write for the television version because on the strength of this he would certainly be up to the challenge. Anyone else got any suggestions for old skoolers they'd like to see taken out of mothballs?

Review 2007: Home


Over the next month, up until the end of the festive season, a range of guest bloggers from throughout the world will be writing about the most significant thing which has happened in the place where they live this year. In setting the challenge, I tried to make it as wide ranging as possible. They could in essence write about anything, so long as it reflected the place where they live and its effects on themselves and perhaps their fellow locals.

What I hoped was that people would want to let the rest of the world (or at least the readership of the blog) know about something dramatic that had happened in the place where they live which we almost certainly wouldn’t have heard about. It’s also just possible that it could be something that on first glance appears small but affecting far more people than you might expect.

It is surprisingly difficult to write about the place where you live. If you visit a different town or city, there’s always something to talk about because you can make comparisons with what you know. That’s why the infamous scene in the car between Jules and Vincent in Pulp Fiction works so well – he’s extrapolating one culture onto another and noting how it’s been changed and we laugh because we’ve had that same conversation ourselves.

The problem is that unless we’re new to the city or town or village, it is so familiar and we’re so used to the rhythms of the place and its people that it’s difficult to put into words what the essence of the place is for someone else. Yet, it’s still something some of us feel the need to articulate – why do we live here and what does that say about me?

The feeling listless blog’s review 2007 is still looking for contributions so if you feel like you have something to say, send it to

Here are the contributions so far:

Annette Arrigucci on El Paso
Angshuman Das on Mumbai
Jennyfer Star on Stockholm
Kat Herzog on Baltimore
Andrew Boyd on Canberra
Andrea Dowling on Liverpool
Kat Herzog on Minnesota
Jacque Baptiste on Sables d’Olonne
O. Dear on the Chicago Suburbs
Ian Jackson on Liverpool
Me on Liverpool


About Look! I've set up a new blog at The Telegraph! Cute typewriter inspired logo and everything! Don't expect I'll ever post there again though.

Passing gas

Life Sometimes someone will say something that really gets under your skin and before you know it you're telling them so. About twenty minutes ago the doorbell went. I ran out to find a girl standing there in the shadows in a fleece holding a clipboard. Considering this supposed to be secure housing, it's worth asking how she got in.

We live in a flat on a floor with three others and she's done what visitors who are obviously selling something do which is ring all four bells and waited to see who appears. I peer through the glass and she approaches me and I already know what she's going to ask me and what my response is going to be.

"We've come to talk about your gas and electricity supply."
"No thanks." I say.

We've had a problem with similar sale people before from the same company before. They try to come across as being somehow official and indeed there have been cases in which our elderly neighbours have offered their signature and found their supplies written over at a more expensive rate. They'll say 'We're just asking people if they want a cheaper gas supply' and even try to suggest that they're from the same company you're already with, offering the 'We're all the same company' trick.

"When would be a convenient time to talk to the main bill payer?" She continues.
Apart from the fact that she doesn't know I'm not the main bill payer, I just want to tell her to go away.
"We don't want to talk about that." I say, repeating her use of the royal 'we'.
Then she says it.
"Well, since you're not the main bill payer I wouldn't to talk to you about it anyway would I?"
Before I know it, I'm retorting in her face:
"... and there's no need for that kind of sarcasm ..."
And I shut the door before she can reply. I don't lock it again because our neighbour has finally arrived and I leave it to him.

I'm not by nature an angry or annoyed person. My stock in trade is passive aggressive and for some reason this pushed all of my buttons. I could have been nicer in providing the negative, but sometimes unless you simply say 'no' they'll always think there's a chance. But please salespeople -- if someone is saying no to you, move on. Don't stand there being sarcastic with them. It might make you feel better but it still won't get you a sale.

'I've loved, I've laughed and cried.'

Politics Blair's was a good resignation speech, and suitably Shakespearean, philosophical in places, legacy sealing in others. Delivering it on his home turf allowed him to deliver it with the audience reacting in the correct places avoiding the uncomfortable pauses that have beset his appearances in recent weeks. As always he was desperate to come across as someone who could be trusted and I think it's the first time I've seen him admit to there being failures, but his message seemed to be -- put yourself in my shoes -- would your choices have been any different?

Watching it on television live at lunchtime though, I had an uncomfortable feeling throughout that I'd heard some of the sentiments before. Of course when he said what's sure to be his epitaph -- 'I did what I thought was right' I was geekily reminded of Ben Kenobi's advice to Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back: 'You must do what you feel is right'. But there was something else, something ... elusive. And then it struck me -- he looked like he wanted to burst into song. Each time he said 'I did...'

He seemed desperate to say, 'I did it my way...'

Tonight I looked back over the speech and indeed the similarities with the Frank Sinatra standard are pretty amazing. Except for the section in the middle comparing what it's like in Britain before and after his primeministership, it's almost as though he gave his advisors a copy of the lyrics and said: 'Base it on that.' Here then is the proof -- with Blair first then Sinatra in italics. Take it away Tony and Frank ...

Blair's resignation speech
My Way

I have come back here, to Sedgefield, to my constituency, where my political journey began and where it is fitting it should end.
And now, the end is near

Today I announce my decision to stand down from the leadership of the Labour Party. The Party will now select a new Leader. On 27 June I will tender my resignation from the office of prime minister to the Queen. I have been prime minister of this country for just over 10 years. In this job, in the world today, that is long enough, for me, but more especially for the country. Sometimes the only way you conquer the pull of power is to set it down.
And so I face the final curtain

It is difficult to know how to make this speech today. There is a judgment to be made on my premiership. And in the end that is, for you, the people, to make.
My friend

I can only describe what I think has been done over these last 10 years and, perhaps more important, why.
I'll say it clear

I have never quite put it like this before.
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain.

I was born almost a decade after the Second World War. I was a young man in the social revolution of the 60s and 70s. I reached political maturity as the Cold War was ending, and the world was going through a political, economic and technological revolution.
I've lived a life that's full.

I looked at my own country, a great country - wonderful history, magnificent traditions, proud of its past, but strangely uncertain of its future, uncertain about the future, almost old-fashioned.
I've traveled each and every highway;

I ask you to accept one thing.
And more, much more than this,

Hand on heart, I did what I thought was right. I may have been wrong. That's your call.
I did it my way.

I give my thanks to you, the British people, for the times I have succeeded, and my apologies to you for the times I have fallen short.
Regrets, I've had a few;

I don't think Northern Ireland would have been changed unless Britain had changed, or the Olympics won if we were still the Britain of 1997.
But then again, too few to mention.

As for my own leadership, throughout these 10 years, where the predictable has competed with the utterly unpredicted, right at the outset one thing was clear to me.
Without the Labour Party allowing me to lead it, nothing could ever have been done.
I did what I had to do

But I knew my duty was to put the country first. That much was obvious to me when just under 13 years ago I became Labour's Leader. What I had to learn, however, as prime minister was what putting the country first really meant.
And saw it through without exemption.

Decision-making is hard. Everyone always says: 'Listen to the people.' The trouble is they don't always agree. When you are in opposition, you meet this group and they say: 'Why can't you do this?' And you say: 'It's really a good question. Thank you.' And they go away and say: 'Its great, he really listened.' You meet that other group and they say: 'Why can't you do that?' And you say: 'It's a really good question. Thank you.' And they go away happy you listened. In government, you have to give the answer - not an answer, the answer.
I planned each charted course;

And, in time, you realise putting the country first doesn't mean doing the right thing according to conventional wisdom or the prevailing consensus or the latest snapshot of opinion.
Each careful step along the byway,

It means doing what you genuinely believe to be right.
But more, much more than this,

Your duty is to act according to your conviction.
I did it my way.

All of that can get contorted so that people think you act according to some messianic zeal.
Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew

Doubt, hesitation, reflection, consideration and re-consideration, these are all the good companions of proper decision-making.
When I bit off more than I could chew.

But the ultimate obligation is to decide. Sometimes the decisions are accepted quite quickly. Bank of England independence was one, which gave us our economic stability.
But through it all, when there was doubt,

Sometimes, like tuition fees or trying to break up old monolithic public services, they are deeply controversial, hellish hard to do, but you can see you are moving with the grain of change round the word.
I ate it up and spit it out.

Sometimes, like with Europe, where I believe Britain should keep its position strong, you know you are fighting opinion, but you are content with doing so.
I faced it all and I stood tall;

Sometimes, as with the completely unexpected, you are alone with your own instinct.
And did it my way.

In Sierra Leone and to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, I took the decision to make our country one that intervened, that did not pass by, or keep out of the thick of it. Then came the utterly unanticipated and dramatic - September 11th 2001 and the death of 3,000 or more on the streets of New York. I decided we should stand shoulder to shoulder with our oldest ally. I did so out of belief. So Afghanistan and then Iraq - the latter, bitterly controversial. Removing Saddam and his sons from power, as with removing the Taleban, was over with relative ease.
I've loved, I've laughed and cried.

But the blowback since, from global terrorism and those elements that support it, has been fierce and unrelenting and costly. For many, it simply isn't and can't be worth it.
I've had my fill;

For me, I think we must see it through. They, the terrorists, who threaten us here and round the world, will never give up if we give up.
my share of losing.

The British are special. The world knows it. In our innermost thoughts, we know it. This is the greatest nation on earth.
And now, as tears subside,

It is a test of will and of belief. And we can't fail it.
I find it all so amusing.

So, some things I knew I would be dealing with. Some I thought I might be. Some never occurred to me on that morning of 2 May 1997 when I came into Downing Street for the first time.
To think I did all that;

Great expectations not fulfilled in every part, for sure. Occasionally people say, as I said earlier: 'They were too high, you should have lowered them.' But, to be frank, I would not have wanted it any other way. I was, and remain, as a person and as a prime minister, an optimist. Politics may be the art of the possible - but at least in life, give the impossible a go.
And may I say - not in a shy way,

So of course the vision is painted in the colours of the rainbow, and the reality is sketched in the duller tones of black, white and grey.
No, oh no not me,

But I ask you to accept one thing. Hand on heart, I did what I thought was right.
I did it my way.

I may have been wrong. That is your call. But believe one thing if nothing else. I did what I thought was right for our country.
For what is a man, what has he got?

I came into office with high hopes for Britain's future. I leave it with even higher hopes for Britain's future. This is a country that can, today, be excited by the opportunities not constantly fretful of the dangers. People often say to me: 'It's a tough job' - not really. A tough life is the life the young severely disabled children have and their parents, who visited me in Parliament the other week. Tough is the life my dad had, his whole career cut short at the age of 40 by a stroke. I have been very lucky and very blessed. This country is a blessed nation.
If not himself, then he has naught.

The British are special. The world knows it. In our innermost thoughts, we know it.
To say the things he truly feels;

This is the greatest nation on earth.
And not the words of one who kneels.

It has been an honour to serve it. I give my thanks to you, the British people, for the times I have succeeded, and my apologies to you for the times I have fallen short.
The record shows I took the blows -

Good luck.
And did it my way!

Sad Tony.

Politics I remember vividly the moment when I realised that a change was going to sweep through the nation. It was 1996 and I was at university having sat in the room of one my housemates after we'd finally itemised the phone bill ready for payment. It was the first time in months the five of us had been in the same place together and even though the group had fractured somewhat since we'd begun living together, we were still able to have those good conversations.

I think I'd mentioned going out that day unsuccessfully looking for a polling booth to vote in the council elections and Liz, one of the more forthright girls verbalised how we all, I think, felt -- we didn't trust the Tories. I obviously towed the wishy-washy Liberal Democrat line. The other four said they didn't trust New Labour either (who had slowly during my time at uni had done away with the grant system) but that it was time to give someone else a chance. That's when I knew there would be a change in government the following year, for people in the room from all over the country and different classes all saying the same thing.

I found myself unable to disagree.

Notice though that none of us could say for certain anything about Tony Blair, whether he was a good man. And it didn't matter that I wasn't a Labour support and would vote for the middle ground. But I was born just before the Thatcher years and I didn't even know what a Labour ruled Britain was and it would at least be a bit exciting just to find out what it would be like. I was still young enough not to really understand the importance of policies (apart from that whole grant thing) and what effect a new government would have on those.

The following year, when John Major stood down outside Downing Street, I rang Liverpool City Council's election department to work at the polls even before the speech was concluded. I effectively told them it was being called. I was desperate for money (some things don't change) but deep down I was also curious to be part of the democtratic process at was going to be a historic occasion.

The excitement of the night, staying up as they always say for Portillo, was seeing these personalities, the Mellors and the Curries, people who'd set the agenda, who's faces had filled the television screens for so many years, simply gone. In retrospect of course, the excitement was short lived. As my journalism teacher always said, it really doesn't matter who's in power, somethings will be better, some things will be worse, but in the end it all balances out expecially across the span of a lifetime.

New Labour weren't all that different to the Conservatives and many of the policies initiated by the latter, from the Dome to Northern Ireland were simply carried on, with credit assumed in the successes and failures blamed on the former administration. But it was certainly exhilarating at the time to see what looked like such a fibrant young man clambering up to number 10 in the wake of the grey suit would been there before him. John Major always seemed pleasant enough but should be really be running the country?

Tony Blair's youth was attractive, he looked like a man who could keep all of the plates of office in the air, at least looked like he had the strength to make decisions, even if he was being egged on by advisors (whoever they were). I was in my early twenties then and given all the things that have happened to me, I can see how long a decade is and actually how much Blair had the potentially to accomplish and what he actually got done, some of which he touched on in his resignation speech today. He's been a very busy man trying to build his legacy and although historically he's done some good but in the end, theorists will wonder, just as I am now, whether the actual successes were worth the strain and general misery of everything else.

Yes, the have been improvements in gender and sexual equality, but we're still a deeply divided nation. A recent Panarama demonstrated that in Blackburne for example, depsite attempts at intergration, whites and asians are all but property swapping, building enclaves and able to live their lives culturally separate, embracing divisions that modern Britain had apparently erradicated. In relation to foreign policy, yes Kosovo could be seen as a moral victory, but compare it to Iraq and well ... plus these things are picked and chosen with other genocides and civil wars and petty dictators, in jungles and deserts, conveniently forgotten because there's no strategic benefit to an intervention, a breaking of the status quo.

I passed by St. Luke's Church in Liverpool today and for the first time, after visiting its bombed out interior yesterday, I was able to look at its exterior war damaged walls and be able to bring an imagine to mind as to what's inside from a different angle. Even after ten years of watching Tony Blair, that's simply not possible, we still don't know if he's really a good man. Some will point to his Christianity as way of underscoring a certain moral certainty.

In ten years, we've never really gained an understanding of who Blair actually is. Everyone seems to have an opinion, and although his drama portrayal by the likes of Robert Lyndsey and Michael Sheen might go some way to suggesting what he's like behind the office and front door we'll never really know, no matter how many apparently frank interviews he'll give on breakfast television sofas. There's always the memoirs I suppose.

I won't runaway

Comics Further to my previous post about a comics version of Amazon, I passed through Forbidden Planet today and set up a standing order for both Buffy & Astonishing X-Men and I'll be able to pick them up 'whenever' or 'y'know after a month we phone you and ask you if you still want them' which is very sensible of them. Oddly enough they had loads of copies of Runaways in stock although that seems like a convoluted storyline too far. Perhaps I will wait for the trades on that one.

In a slightly related post, Chris Butcher bemoans the lack of related back catalogue on the shelves at least in the US. One of the comments below is particularly apposite:
"The sad fact is, of course, that most Whedonites just plain don’t understand when you say “It’s not in print,” or “It’ll be a few weeks before we can get them in” because they’re used to being able to walk into a Best Buy and buy the DVDs of the series whenever they want. Why wouldn’t it be the same with the books?"
Why not indeed. The clerk in FP said that they received and put out seventy-five copies of Buffy #3 and they sold out within an hour. This is a high circulation title and it's becoming apparent that the publisher Dark Horse don't have the ability to cope -- variants and reprints are all fine but would it simply not be more prudent to print enough copies to go around in the first place, knowing that the market is there for them? My only guess is that in relation to the UK its an import issue but I've heard about availability issues in the US as well.

Geek is the word


70% - Free Online Dating

Of course I am -- who could have doubted it? But then one of the questions asked what the ship was called in Firefly. Sheesh.

Branagh Hamlet coming to DVD

This will please some regular readers. Movie Web have news that a Region One dvd release is coming in August -- and on two discs which means that the bit-rate should be high enough to do justice to the 70mm photography. The details are as follows:
Hamlet 2-Disc Special Edition (1996):

- Running Time: 242 minutes
- Color
- Rating: PG-13
- Audio: Soundtrack remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1
- Subtitles: English, French and Spanish subtitles. (feature film only)

In this first-ever full-text film of Shakespeare's greatest work, nominated for 4 Academy Awards®, the power surges through every scene. The timeless tale of murder, corruption and revenge is reset in an opulent 19th-century world, using sprawling Blenheim Palace as Elsinore with much of the action staged in shimmering mirrored and gold-filled interiors. The luminous cast includes actor/director Kenneth Branagh, Kate Winslet, Derek Jacobi, Julie Christie, Robin Williams, Jack Lemmon, Billy Crystal and Charlton Heston.

The excitement of the Bard's words and Branagh's adventurous filmmaking style lift the story from its often shadowy ambience to fully-lit pageantry and rage. Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle said, "In the 80 years that works of world literature have been adapted for the screen, few filmmakers have attempted so much and with such success."

DVD Features:
- Introduction by director/star Kenneth Branagh
- Commentary by Kenneth Branagh and Shakespeare scholar Russell Jackson
- Featurette To Be on Camera: A History with Hamlet
- 1996 Cannes Film Festival promo
The extras aren't of the order of Lord of the Rings but with over four hours to chat, Ken and Russell will probably cover much of the ground. The 'To Be On Camera' featurette is the same one that appeared on its own tape accompanying the film on its original vhs release and although it is alright, it's not a patch on any of the BBC documentaries that turned up around the cinema release. Perhaps when the UK release drifts around they might appear as exclusive items. The package has a reasonable price of $19.97 which'll probably double in region two.

For the really interested, it's also appearing as part of a boxset, The Shakespeare Collection with Max Reinhardt's A Midsummer Night's Dream (with James Cagney as Bottom!), Larry Olivier's Othello and MGM's Romeo and Juliet - none of which have anything in common other than the obvious and that their rights are now owned by Warner Brothers. Still excellent value at just under sixty dollars. [via]


Life For some reason my mobile phone was next to my pillow this morning, so when it rang I nearly jumped out of my skin. Snapping into consciousness in the way I can in the morning, opened its clam shape. 'Private number' on the screen. Who the hell? I answered.
"Hello, good morning." I said cheerfully.
They hung up. Drat. Must have been a wrong number. I looked about the room then spotted my alarm clock. 6:23 am. Double drat.

On my way up to the cathedral for the lunch time lecture, I stopped in at St Luke's Church -- popularly known as the bombed out church on Hardman Street. Left as a memorial after taking fire during the second world war, this is the first time its been open to the public in over sixty years. Something called Urban Strawberry Lunch are manning the doors between twelve and two and are running a series of events throughout the summer through to October.

Inside it's as atmospheric as you'd expected, with beams still showing the charcole and scorch marks of fire and walls that look like they're teetering on the edge of falling down. No wonder visitors are asked to sign safety wavers as they enter. For decades, until an installation during the biennial, the place was filled with trees, a woodland in captivity. That's probably the interior I would have most wanted to see but this is fine and still shows signs of an area being reclaimed by nature.

The space is inhabited by art objects and information boards and a stereo blasting out the sounds of war and memories of the time. To each his own but I would have preferred it if the interior had appeared more unsullied and quiet, as someone commenting on a message board near the exit says, a tranquil place to escape to in the already loud city centre. I can sympathise with that -- this is a war memorial after all and although the information boards, also inside, add context, it's a shame that they can't be kept outside.

Perhaps in the future, if it can be made safe for just day to day visits, with park benches instead of pews.

More Faces

About Facebook, it turns out, is very addictive. I've managed to find people I went to university with who I haven't spoken to in ages. Lord knows who else is on there. I'll just have to keep on looking ...


TV Given that the last whole episode of Casualty I saw was probably about five years ago because Star Trek's Marina Sirtis was special guest starring and I've never seen a whole episode of its spin-off Holby City, oh and I stopped watching The Bill when it became a soap opera, I'm probably the last person you'd expect to be watching the next series set in both their worlds. But something about the lineage of the series (created by Tony Jordon of early Eastenders, Life on Mars and Hustle), some of the cast members (particularly Tim Piggot-Smith) and the decent preview reviews from the likes of Radio Times were enough persuasion to at least give it one look.

It's nice to be pleasantly surprised. Of course, it is basically a good old fashioned police precinct drama within a format as old as the Hill Street Blues but running through there's a gentle seem of satire about present policing and none of the earnestness that usually turns me off such things. The pre-publicity has highlighted that this is a 'sexy' new police series set in the post 9/11 world, and so it is, with central character DI John Keenan (played with ramshackle charisma by Cal Macaninch) bemoaning at length the fact that he can't get enough officers to cover the day-to-day crimes because they're all on terror alerts. But it isn't afraid to make fun of such things with Keenan even taking advantage of them in the hunt for a paedophile, lying about the suspects possible terrorist involvement so that he could cut through red tape.

Actually, the show probably wouldn't be half as entertaining without Keenan, a Gene Hunt for the naughties and his central relationship with new DCI Luke French (Richard Harrington who seems to have been in every other major BBC drama for the past ten years) has more than a whiff of the duo at the centre of Life On Mars, the well broken in mix of by the book policing and rule breaking to get the job done. The writers have followed a somewhat American playbook in realizing that people will tune in week on week if the characters are entertaining enough - and there are a few other growers, not least crackerjack trainee Lucy Slater and Jenny Black (played by Kacey Ainsworth, Eastender's Little Mo) a sassier version of The Bill's June Achland.

Perhaps it's the willingness to surprise the viewer that I enjoyed most, to wrong foot our expectations. A female constable is on route to picking up someone who's broken their asbo carefew. Cut to a sweaty young scallywag having his way with some bit of skirt in her bedroom - who then turns out not to be the Asbo after all but said constable's partner. Or when a jealous husband who threatened his wife has been released without charge on the understanding that he's imagined her affair returns home to find said spouse on the couch with a neighbour. To be honest the biggest surprise is that for a pre-watershed show, there's even more procreation than Torchwood, mostly tasteful and at least in this case it's human on human.

There are a few problems - the characterization of said paedophile was hardly subtle - he looked like he'd walked in from a 70s public information film and I can already imagine that one of the problems the show might have is that the coppers will be more interesting than their quarry which could make the whole thing a bit lopsided. Plus that scene shifting technique from NYPD Blue where the camera slashes past scenery has been unnecessarily imported perhaps to divorce it even more from its parent series - which is odd considering its already shot on handhelds and in a single camera style and is closer to the kind of thing that usually turns up in the nine o'clock drama slot on BBC One. Oh and it's possibly too long, dragging itself out the fit the timeslot, some storylines showing signs of stretch marks.

Despite the appearance of Charlie from Casualty in the teaser the series couldn't be further from what I've seen of the parent series - indeed with a title and locale change you'd be none the wiser. It's interesting then to see that in order to launch the series it's been plonked in the same universe as though it simply wouldn't have worked without that connection. It all has the potential to become a British version of this universe (exemplified by the Law & Order franchise) and I wonder if, before long, when the BBC launch a new series in another genre if they'll simply tie it in as well, enjoying the connection. Might Party Animals have survived if Ashika had been contesting the seat of Holby West and we'd seen Duffy (is she still in Casualty?) taking a break to go and vote?

I don't usually talk about this stuff, but ...

Politics The White House website has a curious feature -- an RSS feed of presidential remarks. It's curious because of its accuracy -- rather than simply reprinting the prepared copy, posts are made of the transcripts of what occurred, so if you look up President Bush's shambolic speech in front of the Queen from today, the amusing flub is there, all present and 'correct'. I'm not surprised The Daily Show can find their material so quickly.

It was the kind of speech that is usually deemed by the press as suitably stately for the occasion although it wasn't without the odd moment of surprise -- as in -- did he really say that? The most eye opening portion for me was:
"As liberty expanded in the British Isles, British explorers helped spread liberty to many lands, including our own. In May of 1607, a group of pioneers arrived on the shores of the James River, and founded the first permanent English settlement in North America. The settlers at Jamestown planted the seeds of freedom and democracy on American soil. And from those seeds sprung a nation that will always be proud to trace its roots back to our friends across the Atlantic."
My italics for emphasis obviously, but as soon as Bush said that I wondered what any Native Americans watching that might have to say about it. Did their ancestors really have freedom and democracy as the white man turned them out of their homes and lands using precisely the tyranny and terror that is mentioned later in the speech. Did the slaves? Oh and indeed when he says that us Brits 'spread liberty to many lands' isn't that just a nice way of saying 'empire building'?

Ancient history to be sure, but in using that history to emphasise the co-operation between the two nations, Bush's scriptwriters seem to make an insensitive misstep here, clearly forgetting that America's own chronology is far from squeaky clean and that those settlers, although initially sympathetic were in the end the first vanguard of an invading force that eventually overran an existing nation. I might have misunderstood, but it does have the implication of bringing civilization to those who apparently have none.

Sure, these are supposed to be simple remarks, but it's a shame that they had to be used in such an outright political way and indeed without a very clear thought about the implication of the words. It's a clear example of history being written by the 'winners' whose own misdeeds are quietly forgotten when necessary. I'm not knocking the sentiments you understand, it's just that I wish they could have been made more articulately and acknowledging certain inherent weaknesses even in another time of war.


About My recently posted profile picture is now in use at my new Facebook account. It's funny seeing who is there and well, who isn't. Much simpler to use than myspace though.

Links for 2007-05-06 [] - Rmail

  • polymath blues: Best Sign Ever
    If only they were this lucid in the uk.
  • Nearly 42.

    Poll On a somewhat similar topic, the results for the test poll are in and rendering me speechless (so it's a good thing I can still type) there are apparently at least forty people reading this blog regularly. Hello to you all! You are you all? Any recent converts feel like de-lurking? There'll be a new quiz when I can think of one.

    I do write. I just don't phone.

    Life Was out last night for my friend Chris's birthday - he's thirty-two now and all caught up with me. I haven't seen him properly since my own birthday last October - we do tend to go through these periods of just communicating through emails and text messages if at all - a side effect of modern life I suppose, but assuming he's reading we really shouldn't leave it too long until next time.

    We met in The Symphony pub at the top of Hardman Street which was The Varsity last time I paid attention and seems much the same yet cheaper although the glasses of coke I was ordering got progressively smaller as the night progressed. I don't tend to love the more traditionalist pubs, but this also gained points for being spacious even if find the toilets required a certain amount of blind faith given that they were behind a door that had a sign pinned to it with the words 'private party - no admittance'.

    Inevitably, perhaps the subject of blogging surfaced since I was the only blogger around the table (as far as I could tell) which I think compensated for the fact I was also the only person who didn't drive a car. I'm not sure that there's a rule that bloggers can't drive and drivers don't blog though - perhaps there's a Venn diagram in it assuming you could ask everyone in the world who blogs and/or drives cars. Anyway, I'm digressing.

    To be honest it's still a bit of a culture shock to be talking about blogging and for people to know what you're talking about straight away without having to think of an explanation. Some of you will remember the 'dark' days of the early nineties when using the term was just an invite for blank faces and stuttering conversations. I'd say it was an activity that a few people did but didn't really talk about except in the huddled online enclaves. Time and amnesia leads me to forget when they actually went 'mainstream' but I suspect it was somewhere around The Guardian's Best Blogging Contest - at least in the UK.

    One or two of the people there said that they read this blog, but not regularly, generally because there's so much of it.

    The word prolific was used.

    Which I am. I have a sort of rule that should try to post something to at least one of the blogs I write every night, and at least three paragraphs. I even managed it last night when I contracted a touch of insomnia and dropped this fittingly uninspiring bit of text to Behind The Sofa at two in the morning.

    It doesn't always happen and the next night I try to make up for it, and not everything is actually very good (see above and probably below), but I think that if I don't do it I'll lose whatever semblance of a knack I have for it so I need to keep writing something - especially since I still harbour this bizarre notion that some day someone might actually decide to pay me for constructing sentences.


    Buy comics.

    Comics We'll talk more later, but since I've somehow managed to miss the new Buffy comic again through not being in town on Thursday, does anyone know of a comics equivalent of Amazon or online in the UK?

    Not quite back from the dead

    Ratings then from the OG:

    6.7 million (37.1% share)

    Once again the most watched for the day, BBC One gaining a couple of million viewers in time for the start of the show. Still bizarre though to see the top rated programme on a Saturday night not breaking the seven million on the overnight. In May.

    The Lazarus Experiment.

    TV The Lazarus Experiment continued this season's trend of aping the structure of the first season, in this case follow The Long Game's model of telling a stand alone story whilst at the same time introducing a range of story strands to be picked up later. The most particular is of course Martha's mum being fed information about who the Doctor is by an aid to the mysterious Mr Saxon (underscoring the deliberate shift away from domestic dynamic of the second season in particular). You could also imagine that, if some of the rumours about the mysterious Mr Saxon are correct, the Lazarus experiment itself could also part of some greater plan we're not privy to yet.

    The DWM preview notes echoes of the Pertwee era, and they're not wrong with the Doctor turning up for some experiment at the opening of the story which goes a bit wrong and he spends the rest of the story sorting it out, reversing the polarity somewhere along the line. In that same preview writer Stephen Greenhorn lists all of his influences from Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man to The Fly to Jekyll and Hyde and perhaps the biggest problem with the story is that some of these influences were too close - the treatment of the reveal of the experiment and its result were pretty similar to the film Spider-man 2 and the monster her became was Brundelfly on a bigger budget.

    It was great though to see Gatiss and Tennant acting opposite one another on-screen and those scenes were perhaps the most entertaining, Greenhorn's thoughtful script providing a genuine philosophical discussion about the nature of humanity and the implications of the Doctor's longevity of the kind we haven't seen for a while, the Doctor in particular looking spectacularly tired all of a sudden. The atmospheric light helped to give the scene even more import, a nourish pool of light caging Lazarus in until his inevitable Hulking out once more.

    The moment in the booth was probably the closest two way since the bathroom scene in Chinatown and worked a treat and despite the application of the Sonic Screwdriver to yet again save the day, the climax too was excellent fun; Wells Cathedral standing in for Southwark looked stunning in the shadows and organ music sending the creature to his doom. It's amusing too that Martha was saved by her sister, not as you would often expect the other way around. Richard Clark showed the same talent for action he displayed in Gridlock, and unlike some directors this season kept the jeopardy clear and lucid.

    Importantly it deepened the dynamic between Doctor and companion in a far more significant way that that recent Dalek story should have. Obviously we knew the Doctor wasn't going to leave Martha behind in the teaser, but the bluff was played in an entertaining way and mirrored perfectly in the closing scene when she completely misunderstands his meaning when he says that OK, she can be his companion rather than a passenger.

    Perhaps the most meaningful way that their relationship differs to that between him and Rose is that whereas they had a shorthand and to an extent could anticipate each other's needs, these two always seem just off each other's wavelength, never quite gelling with the Doctor perhaps deciding that the old approach to these best friends, potentially dying for them but at arms length is best.

    If, once again, I completely failed to be thrilled by it all, it's perhaps for the same reasons I've outlined before. It's another base under siege, another CG beastie chasing the Doctor around, another evil genius played by someone who's narrated Doctor Who Confidential, another experiment gone awry and some more scenic murder. To unfortunately repeat myself, it really is getting to the stage were you imagine that my favourite scene in Paul Magrs novel The Scarlet Empress is playing out.

    In there, the Doctor suggests to the parliament of birds that he feeds them all of the expected elements of one of his adventures and by slotting them together at random they can create something new. Like the Starship Enterprise investigating yet another special anomaly it lacks a freshness, a blasting together of already successful elements in an attempt to produce another entertaining story, which it really is to a point. I know I'm beginning to sound like a scratched record, but I look forward to seeing something more challenging. Perhaps Human Nature will provide that.

    It would be a tad unfair to describe The Lazarus Experiment then as a forty-five minute build up to a trailer but the treat presented at the climax as a result of the fortnight's hiatus could potentially over shadow the whole episode, at least for now, and will certainly be rewatched more often over the coming fortnight, especially the stuff with John Simm looking totally menacing. Could the Doctor's meddling at the close of The Christmas Invasion have finally resulted in some very bad things happening in the British Government?

    Links for 2007-05-05 [] - Rmail

  • OFF THE TELLY: Reviews/2007/Election2007
    Ian Jones stayed up later than I could and provides a review of the BBC's election coverage. Emily Maitlis met some bloggers. Anyone we know? Suw?