The Family of Blood.

TV Glancing through the back of the new dvd release of Robot, as well as noticing that they've forgotten to mention that Barry Letts is on the commentary track (poor Barry) I misread the top line of the synopsis so that instead of 'mortally' it said 'morally' and so became 'Morally weakened by the Spider Queen on Metabelis 3, the Doctor is forced to regenerate'. Apart from offering the wonderful image of Pertwee finally letting his hair down and the timelord stopping off at Metabelis 4 to pick up some skank and a bit of skirt before making a few bets on a gladiatorial contest in Ancient Rome, it demonstrates how lately I've really been hoping that my favourite television series (tm) would surprise me. And tonight, for a change, it did, right from the opening through to the climax.

I loved the unpredictability of Gridlock and but I think this two parter, concluding tonight with The Family of Blood, might claim to be one of the best (if not the best) stories ever. I'm so pleased that my hyperbole of last week hasn't been misplaced and that once again, in the middle of some familiar tropes it managed to become something totally new. This was dark, ugly, strange, melancholic yet still witty and yes, totally surprising, and in fact everything that BBC Four's Children's TV on Trial season suggested has disappeared from children's and even family television entertainment.

Primarily it was about death, one of the subjects that lately we've apparently been trying to hide from kids. From the confirmation that when the family possessed the human vessels the original person is gone, to the boys taking up arms again the scarecrows in a rehearsal for the theatre of war a year later, to Joan taking John and Martha to the house of the little girl understanding that the owners will have been vapourised, to the family not wanting to die by stealing the timelord longevity, to John Smith dealing with his own mortality so that the Doctor can live and finally that all of this wouldn't have occurred, as I suggested last week, if the time lord had chosen a different place and time to 'hide'. Yes, kids it's a shitty world and you're all going to die.

Yet in the midst of that it provided an admirable sense of hope. The boys didn't kill anyone because the scarecrows are filled with straw, the family don't die in a variety of grim somewhat cruel ways, John Smith is still there under the surface of the Doctor this time not the other way around and by returning the Doctor saves them all. Again. Tim and his friend live because he's able to see the future and dodge the bomb, and he lives to a ripe old age, old enough to commemorate his fallen comrades in what is possibly one of the new series best conclusions. Yes, we're meant to feel but on this occasion it was earned and those of us who slept through History at school learnt something in the process.

But it was a mark of the story that it still managed to rattle along but unlike elsewhere it stayed tonally concrete. One of the few moments of humour, when Martha showed that, yes, it is possible for someone of her social class to be a Doctor came from another reminder of the casual racism that went on at the time (and at the same time daring to make Joan a slightly unsympathetic character with modern eyes). That battle sequence provided the requisite action but tempered with the image of boys shooting guns, the very people who shouldn't be anywhere near a battlefield yet still are in some parts of the world. Some time in the future, perhaps someone will write an essay about those scarecrows and how they could be seen as a symbol of the objectification of the enemy that goes on in war, the apparently necessary disregarding of your opponent as being human.

The magical connection between the boy and the watch was wonderfully redolent of the adaptations of the past of C S Lewis and John Masefield, of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and particularly The Box of Delights, finding through an object fantastical doorway into another world and adventures. Of course, today's kids might see Harry Potter parallels and that's fine but part of me wondered if there was the potential for another spin-off, of the watch's powers not being completely depleted as Tim drifts through history writing wrongs as he goes, a kind of Quantum Leap going the slow way. The story also harked back to the kinds of fantasy stories the BBC has always done so well but has lately abandoned for being too out of step with contemporary society. The fates of the family where laced with the kind of fairytale imagination you'd expect from The Brothers Grimm and Lemony Snicket, the little girl trapped in all mirrors everywhere perhaps appearing out of the corner of a child's eye whenever they wash their face in the morning.

The way these fates were revealed, the villain's voice over a montage sequence was again another example of how this story plays about with time and innovative approach to editing. That's not entirely new -- see Elton narrating his story in Love & Monsters, but it managed to turn these murderous fiends into sympathetic characters in order to heighten the darkness in the Doctor's character. The flashes forward were a treat too and it's nice that it wasn't clear whether John and Joan had actually been given the opportunity to experience that life for themselves within those moments rather like the fallen messiah in The Last Temptation of Christ or for a genre reference Picard in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode The Inner Light. It would be lovely to think that the watch (and the spector of the Doctor hidden within) had given Smith the opportunity to live a version of the life he was about to give up to ease his choice.

The impeccable (there's that word again) production design continued this week with the apparent reliance on location filming paying dividends in terms of creating a sense of place. If some of the CG didn't quite integrate properly (I'm thinking this time of the mass of scarecrows which looked like different groups matched together) the episode still benefited from a cohesive approach to period design meaning that when elements of the future did intrude (the sonic screwdriver, the Tardis, the space ship) they looked even more alien. For a comparison see the Daleks in Manhattan episodes in which looked like a recreation of a movie version of the past rather then the authentic article. It's a fine line but if your setting is believable it goes some way to helping the audience suspend their disbelief and enjoy the story all the more.


Elsewhere New Doctor Who review, lashings of analysis.


Duane has had an answer from the RSC's press office regarding the whole Cardenio announcement. I'll let you visit Shakespeare Geek for the full clarification but it isn't a new find or authentication of an old text but a production based on that later translation called Double Falsehood. It all seems to be a bit of a misunderstanding.

In other news though, according to someone commenting on the blog, Arden are currently preparing an edition of that play for publication, edited by Professor Brean Hammond, Head of School of English, University of Nottingham. There's a transcript of a television interview with him here which seems to suggest it will be published under their Shakespeare banner and that they are making a case for it having a certain canonicity.

It's not listed in their catalogue yet though. Interestingly, Arden are beginning a new series in 2009 of drama from the same period in their distinctive style, so perhaps if they can't authenticate Double Falsehood they'll put it there instead.

Frankly, this is all getting far too confusing. I think I'll stick to Hamlet. So about the placement of 'To Be Or Not To Be' ...


Life Unsurprisingly, it's only when you have to set down what your 'principle interests' are that you begin to wonder what you're doing with your life. I mean do people really have those kinds of hobbies any more?


Life As you can see from the length and partial coherance of the previous post, I've managed to work out how to get my good keyboard to work with the laptop so now I've got a perfectly fine, if sometimes chuggy stop gap. Also I think I've caught a cold -- itchy eyes, blocked nose etc. But it could just be a lack of sleep. It's warmer than it would appear and I'm not sleeping properly.

I see that Big Brother is eminantly missable again this year. Apparently a single bloke (who I imagine will be nice but dim and loaded) is entering on Friday and having lived with four women in my second year at university I have to warn him that you might imagine that situation will be -- exciting -- but the reality is a nightmare.

Certainly it depends on the people, but he's essentially going to be locked in a house with the reincarnated spirits of Daphne & Celeste, trainee WAGs, his headmistress from primary school and her secretary and a girl who thinks that indie is the new thing. Actually she seems very nice indeed. They're going to eat him alive -- oh the arguments and jealously that'll ensue.

But is this really the best the beleaguered production team can do -- more transparent attempts at creating the inevitable bust up? Some bookies are offering odds of 50-1 that the show will be shut down before the end and I think it could go either way. With rumours of police on standby and watchdogs waiting for any kind of off colour remark tensitivity will be at a max -- do they really want to risk it in the atmosphere of an audience that are tuning in now actually to see it all go horribly wrong? have the usual special page should you want to read about Lesley complaining to the press complaints commission about a story in Hello magazine about Kate Winslet and read Chanelle's inevitable myspace page. "Yes, I got into Big Brother!!!" she says on a page that was last logged into today -- after she entered the house. I suspect someone else is keeping it together. Remember when the show featured ordinary members of the public?

Extracts from Richard E Grant's book The Wah-Wah Diaries and Martin Scorsese's film The Departed

Two different Hamlet sightings in as many days. I have of late been reading Richard E Grant's The Wah-Wah Diaries in which he describes the hair pulling exercise of making his directorial debut. On the 23 April 2004 he says:
23 April 2004

Read Hamlet - a man caught betwixt and between if ever there was one. His penultimate thoughts fir perfectly:
If it be now, 'tis not to come;
If it be not now, yet it will come; the readiness is all.
Since no man knows aught of what he leaves,
What is't to leave betimes?
Let be.
5.30pm call from Marie-Catille. The film is fully financed and start shooting on 7 June! Levitated.
This is during a moment when the film could go either way. Marie-Catille is his producers and she's been something of a nightmare to deal with and because they're not really communicating the project could collapse at any minute. But I think he sense there's an inevitability that something will happen and that its beyond his control.

Then today, watching Martin Scorsese's The Departed I noticed this during a sting operations:

COLIN turns away from the activity.

Oh, my friends are still coming.

COLIN sees QUEENAN staring at him.

We'll just say lunch tomorrow. All right, bye.

COLIN ends the call. QUEENAN is there.

The readiness is all. You know the players, call the game.

Thank you, Captain.

He gives him the clipboard, Colin goes to the work area.
I'm not sure that the sense is thematically keyed into the scene -- but it is part of a screenplay that's replete with Shakespearean allusions both in the dialogue in the whole sense of the story. Without hopefully spoiling anything it seems to run the flip side of a problem play -- instead of slipping from tragedy to comedy, the film flows inextricably the other way.

Moderately fulfilling

Books Yesterday I visited the newly reopened John Rylands Library on Deansgate in Manchester. I first slipped through its doors at lunch time during a particularly horrific day at work in the early naughties seeking something cultural. That's exactly what found within its walls, gothic architecture resembling a church, but with books and desks instead of crusafixes and pews.

Not having much time, it was still instant gratification, a quick reminder that there was a life outside of the credit card balances I was dealing with during the day and I signed up to their mailing list and hoped that some of what I'd seen would at least come through my letterbox. The irregular newsletters came and within a few months it was announced that the library would be closing for refurbishment, restoration and for the building of a new visitor centre and there they are now with the latter, a modern adjunct in glass and stone sympathetically hidden behind the main building.

The library was built by Enriqueta Rylands as a memorial to he husband John, a cotton magnate from St Helens, to enrich the architecture and cultural understanding within local the area. This kind of memorial library is unque in Britain and she set about making it even more special by specifically purchasing notable artifacts, a tradition that has continued throughout its life and the collection, in a range of languages, includes everything from Caxton Bibles to fragments from Homer's Odyssey, a haul which was augemented considerably with the library's merger with Manchester University in the early seventies.

Instead of stepping through the main doors on Deansgate, entry to the library is now made through that modern visitors centre with its ground floor gift shop and cafe. The effect is not unlike that found at the British Museum in the hall that now surrounds the old reading room. It's surprisingly sympathetic with the new walkways leading through old doorways on the various floors, exhibition spaces now set up in what look like the old offices on the first floor.

This includes a simplistic overview of the history of the library -- bullet heads with the main points instead of the paragraphs that might have appeared not that long ago, Then on to the first book rooms, the Crawford and Spencer and the first inkling of something which would niggle throughout the visit which although understandable stopped the library from being quite as exciting for me as it should be.

These rooms are filled with ancient books, small volumes, large volumes and very large volumes on a range of subject in a mass of genres. I'm immediately, obviouslty drawn to these fat volumes of Shakespeare. I spot Henry V and Hamlet. They're really impressive and I want to look inside see if I can find out more about them. Except , of course, they're not on book shelves but display cabinets, which intriques me even more. Are these really folios and if so what vintage?

An attendant wanders through. I ask him: 'Are they folios? When are they from?'
'Dunno mate.' He says, 'But they're big and heavy - I speak from experience - putting them up on the shelf.'
And he wanders off again. I wrote down what he said so I wouldn't forget. I stand looking at these enticing volumes with their golden encrusted spines and suddenly seem less illuminated. Perhaps he was having a bad day (in spite of his whistling) but I wanted enthusiasm, to be enthused, for there to be passion to back up my obvious enthusiasm. It started to rain outside.

Which was really the story of the visit in the end, throughout there were amazing delights, things which could get people excited about books and reading and learning but there's a barrier stopping them from fufilling their original purpose. Which isn't to say that there weren't some jewels on display -- a fragment of St. John's Gospel dating back to AD125 for example, the oldest known fragment of that book anywhere and a small display about John Dalton, who wrote 'A New System of Chemical Philosophy' which oddly includes a lock of his hair, taken when he fell seriously all after a stroke.

The Historic Reading Room is stunning though and just as I remember it. Its church-like feel is a result of the architect's usual commissions and Mrs Rylands had to ask him to tone down some of his excesses -- she wasn't a religious woman herself. According to the souvenir guide, the room was built thirty feet above street level to minimize disturbance from horse-drawn traffic and this feature still works now, the roaring of engines of Deansgate being absent, the space almost silent with the exception of the muttering of visitors and when I was wondering through a pensioner with a hacky cough.

The walls are lined by reliefs of the great men whose work is included in the collection -- Gutenberg to Newton, Bacon to Shakespeare (or Shakespere as the plaque would have it). At the top and tail of the room ae marble statues of the Rylands by John Cassidy. It really is impressive, but still frustrating because once more all of the books are in display cases, behind glass, artifacts outside of their original purpose.

The many spines are interesting, pretty even, but what's inside is even more interesting. And to access that you have to be part of the university and (as I discovered when I visited the new reader's reception to ask) you need two forms of ID and a letter from a tutor explaining specifically why you want to look at whatever it is you want to have a look at. This is a non-browsing library. You really need to know what you're looking for and why.

Which as I said before is entirely understandable -- this is after all, now, the building that houses the special collections of the university, many, many valuable volumes of the kind that letting anyone just pick up and handle would be a really bad idea in the long run. It's just a shame that Mrs Rylands original intention, to offer these materials for the general public, to enrich everyone, can't be fulfilled any longer.

So what you're left with is a really impressive building that's wonderful to look at, moderately fulfilling its purpose. I suspect that actually this is all just the regretful part of me that misses the university experience surfacing as it always will. Plus I'm sure most of anything written in these books could be found at the local library in nice new copies and that indeed most of these books have historical artifact value anyway. And I did get to see some Shakespeare in the display - a pair of facsimile Quartos by Charles Praetorius from 1885 of Hamlet and King Lear. The title pages at least.

"Well, I don't really watch television in France."

TV The new issue of one of my other haunts, Off The Telly, features this wonderful interview with Tom Baker:

"The thing about fandom, especially fandom on a long-running series, they actually believe - rather like we believe - in the resurrection of the dead. We're all fans of someone. So if I see three famous old cricket players or three people from the World Cup of 1966, I don't think to myself, "He's gone bald, or he's got no teeth, or he's limping". When I see the three of them there, the power of nostalgia is all to do with when you were young and able to do things you can no longer do, I think. And that's why it's translated there, to when you were young and they were tigers, you know. Fans don't say, "God he's so old now". So when I go occasionally to a memorabilia thing, it doesn't matter that I'm next to Nicholas Courtney or another old Doctor Who - whatever it is. They don't care. Fan love, in that sense, is superior to human love. It's very sweet."

Wing and a prayer

Life Tonight I greet you on a wing and a prayer. Last night my desktop pc died -- well not so much died as windows 98 rendered itself inaccessible and the poor things so old it won't simply let me reinstall the operating system so I suspect that any operating system would be out of the question. I need a totally new machine and as it stands, that too is out of the question.

Luckily I still had that laptop I was handed down at Christmas and even more luckily it has a modem built in and somehow I've contrived to get it to work -- and work out how to plug the machine into my main monitor. So here I am online, able to check emails, write my blog and do some minimal surfing.

The machine is sloooow. It doesn't like Firefox very much and I can almost hear the poor thing straining away as it attempts to draw some some things on screen. Plus the keyboard has a slightly annoying layout in which the home key is right next to the delete key so I'm forever finding myself in the middle of a previous paragraph as I type. But like nature's random approach to the weather we're all experiencing at the moment, I'll get used to it.


Elsewhere Busy day at the Hamlet blog: a book review and the lost Shakespeare play Cardenio found. Maybe.

Cardenio found

Not Hamlet I know, but I read a rumour about this over the weekend and contacted the Royal Shakespeare Company's press office to see if it was hoax. Funnily enough -- it really isn't. Here is the press release:
"Cardenio: Shakespeare’s Lost Play Found

RSC Chief Associate Director, Gregory Doran, chose the opening of his production of Coriolanus at the Teatro Albeniz in Madrid as the occasion to announce the “discovery” of a lost play by William Shakespeare based on an episode in Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes. A play by Shakespeare, England’s greatest writer, based on a story by Spain’s greatest writer, Cervantes, is certainly big news, but would also be an ideal intercultural project to celebrate the Royal Shakespeare Company’s growing relationship with Spain . Last year the Company received a Gold Medal for Excellence in the Fine Arts, awarded by his majesty Juan Carlos following a recent visit by the Company with their production of The Canterbury Tales, and a highly successful season of plays from the Spanish Golden Age which played Madrid in 2004.

Cardenio – the title of this missing masterpiece, was written by Shakespeare and fellow writer John Fletcher, in 1613 after Thomas Shelton’s translation of Don Quixote appeared the previous year. It tells the story of the lunatic lover and a heroine who dresses as a shepherd boy to follow her love into the mountains – familiar terrain in the tragic-comedies of Shakespeare’s late plays.

We have evidence of the play’s performances at Court in 1613 but for some reason the play was not included in the first folio of Shakespeare’s complete works that was published in 1623 after his death. That’s not entirely surprising as Pericles was not included either nor another of Shakespeare’s collaborations with John Fletcher, The Two Noble Kinsmen.

The play surfaced when a manuscript was given to the Shakespeare editor Lewis Theobald in the early eighteenth century by John Downes, a book-keeper and prompter for the Drury Lane Theatre. Theobald adapted the play for the stage and it had a very successful run in the theatre in London. It is probable that the manuscripts were lost in a theatre fire in the early nineteenth century, but luckily we still have Theobald’s adaptation, and of course, the original source, Thomas Shelton’s 1612 translation.

Gregory Doran is busy exploring the possibilities of some sort of collaboration between Spanish and British artists in order to conduct an exploratory workshop and bring a production to the stage of Cervantes’ story of Cardenio – via William Shakespeare – of which both great authors might have been proud.
I'm excited but it's tempered with a bit of confusion. Are they actually annoncing the surfacing of Shakespeare and Fletcher's original verse or some later translation? There seems so be a skirting around that issue in the release -- and in fact it just seems like it will be a version of Theobold and Shelton's work and not actually Shakespeare at all.

The other problem I'm having that considering everything there's been no coverage of this in the media which just seems very odd to me. Google News has nothing and the wikipedia entry hasn't been updated which are usually indications that something is going on. That suggests that others are seeing the same inconsistencies I am.

Anyway, I've emailed the RSC back for a clarification and I'll keep you posted on developments.

Updated! Hmm. In all my excitement I forgot to add the link in to the source of the story which is of course the wonderful Shakespeare Geek. Incidentally I haven't heard back from the RSC press office since I asked for a clarification but I'll let you know when I do.

'Shakespeare in Production' edited by Robert Hapgood

I don't have many pet hates. There's people who get on buses and stand next to the door when the rest of the vehicle is empty. There's the fact that BBC Breakfast never leads with anything that you could actually call news. And there's when Hamlet is referred to as a good book or a great read. It’s really not - it’s a good, sorry, a great play. When it sits statically on the page, the poetry of some sections really sing, but as drama it simply doesn’t work. Although Shakespeare includes description and the soliloquies offer moments of introspection it’s difficult to reconcile as drama. Only performed does the magic hopefully occur and is the genius of the writing really expressed.

Cambridge University Press’s Shakespeare In Production series attempts to cope with that problem by presenting the play on page but within the context of performance, so that students and researchers (and fans) can get a sense of how various sections were played theatrically, comparing and contrasting the various approaches. So their version of the text is augmented across the bottom of each side by footnotes pertaining to each line describing what happened during various productions; we’re told for example, that at the top of Act IV, scene 2 when Hamlet has hidden the body of Polonius and says ‘Safely stowed’ that Richard Burton ‘briskly rubs his hands together. Stephen Dillane played the scene for its black comedy’.

With information compiled by the editor Robert Hapgood from his own observations and contemporary accounts, it’s an approach that generally works very well. Understandably, ‘to be or not to be’ provokes a mini-essay which includes musical notation to demonstrate the intonation that various actors brought to the line. For the purposes of this blog though it’s replete with spoilers - I don’t really want to know how the like of Burton and Jacobi played the prince before I’ve seen them. In addition you could imagine that an actor venturing into these pages before attacking the role for themselves would feel the ghosts of those you’ve gone before weighted down on their shoulders. The only consolation is that Hapgood isn’t afraid to include criticism were it's due, emphasizing that some previous actors have grasped their parts better than other.

The introduction perhaps provides Hapgood's best work as he provides a more chronological history of Hamlet in performance tracing a through line of Danes from Burbage through Betterton, Garrick, Kemble, Kean, Booth, Irving, Gielgood, Olivier and into Barrymore, Burton and Branagh. In meticulous detail the writer attempts to reconstruct how each of the historic actors might have played the role in these productions and how that reflected on those who came later. The most fascinating passages are those which consider the effect that playing the role had on the actor; that the best actors and those for whom it was their signature character exhaustedly put themselves into the dane to such an extent that they never got over it, Hamlet’s doubts becoming their own.

Hapgood is also keen to emphasize the shifts in emphasis and how the play has developed across the centuries from being about one lead character and a range of subordinates into much more of an ensemble, from the likes of Ophelia and Gertrude being portrayed as projections of Hamlet’s impression of them into being full fledged, psychologically distinct individuals. Such shifts seem index linked with the attitudes of the time - of course in the past century Ophelia has become a much more forthright and less submissive role and Gertrude has developed into more of a femme fatale often aware of her new husband callous tendencies instead of the mumsier figure married for her political position that may have appeared in the past.

Also threading throughout the book is some commentary on how the text has been treated through history. As Hapgood lucidly describes there have in general been five different versions of the play in the production, Quarto I (Q1), Quarto II(Q2), First Folio (F), a restoration edit and the more contemporary approach of amalgamating them all, chopped about to emphasize the interpretation and thematic interests of the director. I’ve finally understood that its in Q1 that Gertrude becomes complicit in Hamlet’s ‘madness’ wheras in the other two the change in loyalty doesn’t occur. That in Q1, ‘to be or not to be’ occurs much earlier with the implication being that Hamlet is aware that he’s being watched and play acting to give the impression that his malady is far deeper than it actually is at that point.

Overall the book confirms everything that I love about the play, it’s flexibility, that no two versions are quite the same and that its impossible to find the perfect production. Hapgood unearths a wonderful verse that expresses my feelings exactly. It’s from W. S. Gilbert’s book Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (1874):

Alike for no two seasons at a time.
Sometimes he’s tall - sometimes he’s very shory -
Now with black hair - now with a flaxen wig -
Sometimes and English accent - then a French -
Then English with a strong provincial ‘burr’.
Once an American, and once a Jew -
But Danish never, take him how you will!

Human Behaviour

Excellent episode, excellent ratings. Hoorah!

7.1 (36.3%)

Top of the shop for both audience and share. Toppo! What!

He's such an emo...

If the Globe Theater had an internet message board.: "Oh, please, the plot of Hamlet makes no fucking sense. There's a ghost and incest and an army on the border, yet they have time to fart around with stupid little plays that do NOTHING to advance the story? It's stupid. And he clearly killed Rozencrantz and Guildenstern because of his anti-fun agenda, as has already been noted." [via]

Maximum Squee

Elsewhere Last night's episode of Doctor Who was fantastic. Cue my incontinent fanboy ramblings.