“Are you smarter than a 10-year-old?”

TV According to this email I’ve just received, SRO Audiences are looking for punters to watch a new show:
“Hi there!
We thought that you may be interested to know that we are currently booking tickets for Dick & Dom’s’ new quiz show.


Hosted by Dick and Dom this brand new quiz show for all of the family gives grown ups the chance to win big cash if they can answer questions relating to subjects taught in school.

To make it easier, they get three cheats and 5 ten year-olds to help them as they work they way up to the big money prize!
Believe us, when you see what kids learn at school these days, they’ll need it!

It’s a perfect day out for the family during the school holidays, but Mums and Dads beware – this could show the kids whether you really are smarter than a 10 year old! The minimum age for attendance is 8 years and children under 16 should be accompanied by an adult.

If you would like to join us for this exciting and fun new quiz show at Elstree Studios for a morning, then apply now!
Given the Ask The Family remake debacle, let’s hope that this format is a better fit for the duo. The ticket ordering page is here, which also mentions the involvement of Noel Edmonds. Funny how his name wasn’t in the email.

Blue Friday

Obituary Factory Records founder Tony Wilson has died. The first uncling I had he was even unwell was during the past couple of weeks when he appeared on North West Tonight and talked to Gordon Burns about how he wasn't able to get his cancer drug on the NHS and was relying on financial help from his friends -- he was highlighting his own plight in the hopes of helping other sufferers. It's very moving, especially now, as Burns asks him what happens if he isn't able to get the drug and he simply says: 'Death'. It's that kidney cancer which took him from us at 6.30 this evening at the age of 57.

More coverage:
Wilson's Dog (posted here last year)
Tony Wilson, big god (Click Opera)
Icon of a city dies (Manchester Confidential)
Factory Records legend Anthony Wilson dies (NME)
Tony Wilson goes to the Factory in the sky (Time Out Chicago)
Tributes to Mr Manchester flood in (Manchester Evening News)
ANTHONY H. WILSON finally closes THE FACTORY (Jazz World)


Oceanography I found out today that Britain is 'tilting' with Scotland going upwards and the south of England going downwards like a massive see-saw. It's an after effects of the ice-age and it's only happening gradually but this 'post-glacial rebound' is one of the reasons that sections of the coast are falling into the sea and is happening throughout the world

According to the Wikipedia, it's a bit of nightmare for property lawyers too: "In areas where the rising of land is seen, it is necessary to define the exact limits of property. In Finland, the "new land" is legally the property of the owner of the water area, not any land owners on the shore. Therefore, paradoxically, if the owner of the land wishes to build a pier over the "new land", he needs the permission of the owner of the water area."

Lying naked on the floor.

Music By my calculations, tonight's Prom 36 marks the half way point for my prom marathon (for want of a better description). Since I'm the kind of person who never sticks to anything like this it is something of a personal achievement. Highlights so far this week have included Renée Fleming's appearance in Prom 32 -- if I didn't take a shine to Berg's 'Seven Early Songs', the two Korngolds were just angelic - particularly since the translation from the second piece, 'Ich ging zu ihm' from Das Wunder der Heliane sounded like an opera version of Natalie Imbruglia's song Torn. If I could find a translation online I'd prove it to you.

Elsewhere, the stonking (is that the right word?) Prom 34 (given by the Bach Collegium from Japan) confirmed that I'm developing a soft spot for Bach and I went right out to the library today and borrowed his Mass In B Minor. Although these pieces were created as part of an act of worship, like the architecture in churches I can appreciate them as artistic endevour as well. As I lay in bed with the lights out with the sound of voices enveloping my ears, my imagination didn't just transported to the Royal Albert Hall but to the past as well, wondering what it must have been like to hear these works for the first time.

Despite all of that, last night Prom 35, with all that jazz was a welcome change. And how surprising to hear that Duke Ellington was inspired by Shakespeare and was able to bend the bards intent around the band sound. Nothing from Hamlet but it really was fun hearing Cleo Lane singing Sonnet 18 ('Shall I compare thee to a summers day?') which seems to be one of the ultimate cover versions and almost as eclectic as the Reggie renditions of The Beatles I heard once. Lane and her husband John Dankworth were a really entertaining double act too -- it makes a change to hear the people behind the music and a concert were applause and cheering and laughter were positively encouraged.

Here's to the next 36!

Too late.

Nature I was naturally very sad to hear about the probable extinction of the Yangtze River Dolphin particularly since it was one of species that the late, great Douglas Adams focused upon as being under threat in his book Last Chance To See. I was about to post some extracts by way of an obituary but Daniel from The Flying Squid blog has already done exactly that:
"The noise in the Yangtze was a major problem for the dolphins, and severely interfered with their echolocation. The dolphins' habit had always been, when they heard a boat, to make a long dive, change direction underwater, swim under the boat and surface behind it. Now, when they are under the boat, they get confused and surface too soon, right under the propellers. [...] These things had all happened very suddenly, he said. The Yangtze had remained unspoilt for millions of years, but over the last few years had changed very dramatically, and the dolphin had no habit of adaptation."
It's worth noting that the book was published over a decade ago and things were desperate then despite conservation projects. [via]

'an innovative and unique approach'

I’ve always wanted to visit Oldham. Not in the same way as New York, probably, but there’s always been some latent curiosity. It developed after watching the local teatime BBC news for many years were, and I know this is probably an exaggeration, it seemed as though anything newsworthy happened in Oldham. Night after night, the social affairs correspondent, Dave Guest, would be seen in a fairly normal looking street talking about some council decision or something that the police are investigating and even if I’d missed the introduction bringing my pasta with pesto into the living room, when he said ‘Dave Guest, North West Tonight, Oldham’ it wouldn’t be a revelation. There seems to be a lot happening in Rochdale too, and I’ll be going there next.

I visited Oldham yesterday for the Museum and Art Gallery which according to Edward Morris’s Public Art Collections in North-West England has a structure by local architect Thomas Mitchell that ‘is simple and unpretentious, at least in comparison with similar buildings at Bury or Blackburn’. Perhaps I should say, had a structure that ‘is simple and unpretentious’ because this is one of those occasions when time has overtaken Edward’s book, which was published in 2001, since a shiny new building was opened in 2002 to house the museum, art gallery and city library. The old building still stands but is joined by a giant modernist, concrete, glass and red brick affair designed by architects Pringle Richards Sharratt which looks from the outside like a cross between a simplified Pompidou Centre and the swimming baths on Oxford Road in Manchester but unpleasant for that.

On their website, the new Gallery Oldham describe their new philosophy: "Gallery Oldham takes an innovative and unique approach to exhibition programming. [...] The new gallery building has brought about an integration of the once separate museum and gallery services, and programming incorporates Oldham's extensive art, social and natural history collections alongside touring work, newly commissioned and contemporary art, international art and work produced with local communities." Sadly what that means is that like Stalybridge’s Astley Cheetham, the highlights of the collection are not on display and as Edward points out, there are some real jewels -- a Sickert, a Watts, a Holman Hunt, a Ruskin, a relatively well known Waterhouse ‘Circe Offering the Cup to Ulysses’ and a Rossetti, ‘Horatio Discovering Ophelia’s Madness’.

These are the kinds of works that other galleries would kill for and would never think of taking down from their walls and yet they’re apparently in storage at the moment. I popped into the tourist information centre later to pick-up a map of the town and the clerk said that the display choice in the new gallery had been noted with messages sent to the local newspaper and even talk of a writing campaign. It’s a curatorial and directorial and trustee decision based on what they think will get people to visit the gallery but it’s difficult to understand why you wouldn’t want the best of what you have for viewing, even designing a new space around being able to show those works. Since most of the works that Edward mentions in his book can't be seen, it was a bit of a disappointment to be honest.

Most of the display spaces have quite low ceilings so the only wall space available to show one of the most renowned pictures, ‘The Death of Cleopatra’ by John Collier, is in a stairwell. It’s a magnificent and massive oil painting detailing Cleo’s final moments as they appear in Shakespeare, with the queen lying almost lifeless on a slab with her handmaidens just on the brink as well. There’s a really useful accompanying leaflet that described the chequered history of the work, from being almost lost at sea, being vandalised, hidden in a basement, attacked by an ‘evil disposed person’ (reputed to be a suffragette), some nipular overpainting and subsequent restoration it’s a surprise that it looks as sharp as it does now.

Another highlight is John Everett Millais’ ‘The Departure of the Crusaders’. This shows a family, apparently at home, watching knights heading off to the crusades; the man and wife and three children are in the foreground and behind them through a window we can see the cross of St. George on the back of a knight heading into the distance at first it’s difficult to read the emotions of the group until you the title actually attached to the frame ‘The Crusader’s Family’ and everything becomes apparent. One of the knights is their son. That’s why his father is looking away, so stern. Why his younger teenaged brother is looking with pride and excitement and pointing and why the mother looks so anguished.

These are the universal emotions of a family watching a son or brother going off to war, the kind that can be seen even now in television news reports of Iraq or Afghanistan about the supporters of servicemen waiting for news. It’s certainly one of the best Millais paintings I’ve ever seen, but again it’s not on permanent display -- it’s part of an exhibition ‘Museum of the Future’ about the collection of the museum, along with a range of natural history specimens, photographs, documents and work by local groups. Perhaps I’m bias but it just looks a bit unheralded and unloved in there and just doesn’t seem to fit especially since this area is also being utilised for family activities (so lots of kids running around etc).

The bulk of the displayed collection can be seen in gallery one as part of a temporary exhibition, 'Where Sheep May Safely Graze' (until 11th August) dedicated to pastoral traditions in British art between the late 18th century and 19th century. Many, many paintings of the rural life, farmhands in fields with horses and cows, milk mades and farmhouses and sheep grazing and picturesque landscapes. More of an acquired taste than you’d imagine this; intellectually I can see that without these images we wouldn’t be able to understand the lost landscapes and lifestyles, would only have Thomas Hardy’s word for what it must have been like in those days, but even though some are more idealised than others and the painting styles differ wildly I just found it a bit samey.

The one painting which stands out is a depiction of farmhands in a field in Teffont Magna in Wiltshire by Harry Fidler called ‘Work’. This has to do with the approach; Fidler has piled onto the canvas masses of oil, pastel colours layered on top of one another in production of the image which impressionistically is only really clear once you step away. Fidler was apparently fairly single minded in his subject matter -- most of work features farmhands in fields in Teffont Magna, but I think because of the sheer ingenuity being used to create the image, none of them would be all that similar.

I was mostly impressed with individual elements of the other pieces -- the way the water in Alexander Stanhope Forbes’ ‘The Drinking Place’ rippled outwards from the mouth of a horse as it took in refreshment, the sand of Ricard Ansell’s ‘Lythan Sand Hills’ which the artist hasn’t been tempted to make golden but is instead dull and moist just as it should be and the snow and wool in Charles Porter’s melancholic ‘A Winter’s Tale’ as two sheep lay dying of cold in a frozen wasteland (Porter was depicting his own struggle to become a professional artist).

Of the other temporary exhibitions, Halima Cassell is the best. Cassell works in ceramics, wood carving and collage and drawing on her Asian back ground creates examples of architectural geometry, of shapes repeated within shapes and two and three dimensions. It’s not quite minimalist though; think of the kinds of doodles you might draw listening to hold music whilst you’re waiting to get through to a call centre. ‘Unsquare Dance’, a clay relief in which a series of squares, from large to small disappear inward, turning by 90 degrees each time. It’s very difficult to describe by there’s something quite meditative in letting your eyes follow the lines of the pattern, taking in the shadows within.

Stuart Ian Burns, feeling listless, Oldham.

The Taking of Planet 5.

Books The Taking of Planet 5 opens with a rather wonderful, new series friendly idea.  The Doctor and his plus two pitch up in Professor Mildeo Twisknadine’s Wandering Museum of Verifiably Phantasmagoric, a museum of fiction items which at one time or another were thought to be real before being debunked or disappearing, the primary example being the planet Vulcan which was ‘detected wrongly in 1880, disproved by Einstein, and then deliciously discovered again in 2003, only to vanish by 2130’.

There’s a lovely moment too when letters sent to 221b Baker Street are pulled out, sent to an obviously fictional detective, the Doctor’s reaction to which is an obvious reference to All-Consuming Fire.  What makes it work for the new series and the spark for the story is that they inevitably discover evidence for a totally fictional entity which really shouldn’t be there and the Doctor decides to head through time and investigate what it’s doing there.

The distinctly unnewseriesy choice (listen, if these authors can make up words so can I) is that the newly non-fictionalised entities are the the Elder Things from H.P. Lovecraft’s work.  I once went to university with someone who was nutty for his work and Doctor Who and would probably love this book.  Personally, I wouldn’t recognise Cthulhu (or whatever his/her/its name is) if they held a door open for me but if there’s something positive to be said about the book, I did get a general idea of some of the concepts of those stories and what the Elder Things should look like. (1)

But not enough to follow whole tracts of the story because unfortunately the rest was a pretty hard going and crucially it’s to do with the language being employed.  Simon Bucher-Jones and Mark Clapham develops into another story set with the mythology begun in Alien Bodies as time lords from the future have also been attracted to the past by these Elder Things hoping to use them within their time war.  Meanwhile, their mission is being manipulated by the Celestis, the race developed from the Gallifreyan Celestial Intervention Agency and it transpires that a monster from the old series is the ultimate reason for them all being there and what the Doctor eventually ends up battling against.

What the authors have done is attempt to employ the same rather incomprehensible syntax which Miles tends to use in relation to these characters or technology almost as though we’re reading a version of our language from the far future.  Example:  “Inchoate, undifferentiated mass, the chronoplasm of the outer shell engulfed him, drinking him down with great drafts of its own substance, pulling him remorselessly into the interior dimensions.”  Which is fine in small doses, but whole tracts of the book are written that way and more often than not the action is lost; it’s Doctor Who with literary pretensions again, and once again it keeps the novel from being the rattling good read it could be.

What you come away with is the sense that actually what the authors have been trying to do, as with Alien Bodies, is to use tricks and subterfuge and complications to obscure what is in essence a fairly simple base-under-siege stories, and on this occasion two running in parallel;  as well as the running about in time lord base in pre-historic Antarctica, there’s also an expedition site in 1999 and both eventually end up being menaced by Celestis.  It’s fairly clearly inspired by John Carpener’s The Thing (which I believe was also influenced by Lovecraft -- how meta) (2).  There are a couple of long scenes between the Celestis and the head time lord that explain what the outer shell of the plot is about, with giant universe sized creatures (3) but after a while they end up seeming about as relevant to this story as the Xeraphin in Timeflight.  Perhaps they’ll become really important in some later books.

Despite all of this, it’s not an unenjoyable read.  The characters are pleasant enough company; most of the human characters are Pertweesque cyphers but the two Celestis, called One and oh yes, Two come across as murderous, alien, Mulder and Scully (as well they might) trying to deal with the fact that the universe isn‘t quite the way they hoped it would be (4).  There’s the welcome return of the Humunculette from Alien Bodies, the roguish version of the Doctor, and the scenes between him and Compassion are a delight (they even have the ‘is you’re name supposed to be ironic’ conversation).  Fitz has regained some of his charm, wonderfully unbewildered by they many oddly shaped people he comes in contact with.

There’s also a strong dose of humour throughout, the epicentre of which being the Doctor who is in full bluff mode attempting to convince the time lords of the future that he’s one of their generals by referring to The Green Death as one of the major battles and the Adamsy scene towards the end where he’s floating in deep space and daydreaming about where his life has been and where it could go.  There’s also a quite touching scene in which his has to convince a new-born TARDIS (see below) that he’s been good to his type-40 and that they’re best friends rather than slave owner and property.

Also, this is the book which may have inspired the line from The Impossible Planet about TARDISes being grown instead of built.  Part of the time lord plans is the building of a ‘hatchery’ (for want of a better word) in which a flotilla of young battle-TARDIS are grown in order to aid the titular planetary invasion.  These are far more organic items than the Doctor’s TARDIS, with even greater sentience.  As the Doctor says to them when he thinks the situation is particularly grim, if they take care of the blue box, it’d be like human’s adopting a neanderthal (think California Man).

Such concepts are certain to return in future ‘episodes’.  At one point we meet a future President of Gallifrey and he’s a bloke which means it doesn’t look good for Romana.  In that same scene, the presence of nine Gallifreys is revealed, some hidden in pocket dimensions, which sounds like a pretty good insurance policy.  This is ‘mythology’ story too and towards the end there’s also a cathedral sized bit of foreshadowing as the Humunculette’s TARDIS, Marie implies that there’s even more to Compassion than meets the eye and a figure appears from the darkness who I think will turn out to be a pretty Masterly presence in the future.

(1)  On page 57, there’s a footnote.  Fitz mentions Griffin, the villain of the piece from Unnatural History and at the bottom of the page is a message which simply says ‘See Doctor Who - Unnatural History’.  In the early days of Star Trek tie-in novels, pages would be filled with these as every single reference to a past adventure would be indicated comic book style, mostly to the James Blish novelisations of the classic tv stories.  My reaction on seeing this one is -- with all the other continuity references throughout the book to this series of books and the television series, you think this one needs explaining!?!  

(2)  While I'm here, I could also mention that the All-Consuming Fire also featured the Cthulhu Mythos and that its no stranger to the Whoniverse since it's also appeared in White Darkness by David A. McIntee and Gary Russell's Divided Loyalties [source].  I haven't read either of those, but if that stuff is already in the Whoniverse, already part of that reality, how can the Doctor identify it as otherwise fictional?  Oh well.  Three reasons for the fall of Atlantic etc ...

(3)  At the end of the book, after the epilogue, there’s an ‘Annexe’ (a posh way of saying Appendix) which is apparently (assuming it’s not simply made up) an extract from a cosmology paper by Simon Bucher-James.  Isn't this like a rerunning an old Open University programme on BBC Four directly after the main programme just in case we didn't understand what went on?  Apart from explaining why it often seems as though you’d need to be a cosmologist to actually follow half of what’s going on in the book, if its presence is to enunciate some of the concepts it pretty well fails because it’s even less comprehensible.  Plus it manages to include ten more footnotes within three pages which has to be some kind of record -- that's impressive even to someone like me who turned squirreling information away in footnotes to keep an essays word length down into a fine art, to the point of even, I think, including a footnote within a footnote.  That said, Bucher-James is to be congratulated for using the phrase ‘that said’ at the start of a sentence just when I was beginning to think it was one of the lazy crutches only I use.

(4)  It's hard to hate any character who kills off the Borad from Timelash for sport.

I would do it too.

TV [Spoiler.][Possibly maybe.] Casting news for Doctor Who. Although this one has a ring of plausibility surrounding it. Despite the source.

[from the comments:

Ben Kingsley as Davros.


Sound great. Bit harsh on Terry Molloy though.]



Music Yesterday's sound of silence was explained at the opening of You and Yours on Radio Four today -- there was a fire alarm at the BBC and the building was evacuated. So at least we know their fire procedures work -- everyone drops everything and leaves...


Film Well, I'm glad someone has said something. Andrew Collins explains what's wrong with the BBC's new British Film Forever documentary series:
"In a clips show, which is what this is, and one that's part of a drive to get the audience to watch the associated films on the BBC and at Odeon cinemas, why give away the endings of the films? It's actually vandalism. In the first episode we found out the precise endings - and were shown clips of them - to Brighton Rock, Get Carter and countless others, including (and this was a real crime), London To Brighton, which only came out last year and on DVD this year."
That amongst so many other things. What the BBC seem to be doing here is aping the list format from Channel 4 without the list and then somehow managing to include even less intelligent sounding analysis. The only way I've manged to work my way through the Gangsters episode is to skip ahead through films I haven't seen which does seem to miss the point.

The Sound of Silence

Music In me best Radio Times letter writing style:
Dear Radio Times,

Just before one o'clock on Monday 6th August, Radio 3 dropped from the airwaves. I was waiting for the start of Proms Chamber Music 4 and once a trailer had ended, silence. The obvious joke would be to suggest that they were playing a recording of John Cage's 4'33" but even then, you'd hear the sound of a concert hall or studio. But all I could hear was a bit of static!

When I was at school I attended a career's fair in which the BBC News's Nick Garnett (then still working for local radio) talked about this happening to him and how he'd been told off by his producer because the null space on the sound waves tends to panic the listener. He's wasn't wrong!

At first I thought I'd gone deaf because of all the music I've been listening to. I checked my headphones. Then I checked my digital radio. I tuned in my analogue radio and nothing there either. I even checked my Freeview signal. Silence. Radio 2 was still broadcasting but someone had actually broken Radio 3!

Then crowd noise faded up, presumably from Cadogan Hall and then the announcer chimed in to introduce the Henschel Quartet. At the end of the sublime concert, the Radio 3 continuity person apologised for the gap, putting it down to technical difficulties. In other words, someone had just pressed the wrong button. It's just so unusual for this kind of thing to happen at the BBC and for that length of time!

Good job I took it in my stride and didn't run around testing all the radios isn't it!

Name and address supplied.
That's a prize winning letter right there!

The Blue Angel.

Books  You’ve got to love Doctor Who sometimes.  Any other series would have followed the experimental Interference with a nice, light generic adventure to get things back on track.  Even Buffy The Vampire Slayer, having thrown the ambiguous, premonition strewn character study Restless in at the end of its fourth season began season five with Buffy Vs. Dracula just to remind everyone what the show was actually about.  In this version of Doctor Who, series editor Steve Cole instead called upon one of the series true auteur, Paul Magrs to co-author with the mysterious Jeremy Hoad a work that’s truly innovative and about as experimental as the series has been so far.

I always remember Doctor Who Magazine’s review of the book -- they said it was like Season Twenty-One opening with the Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Turlough enjoying breakfast in a kitchen having settled down into suburbia (and how preferable would that have been to Warrior’s of the Deep?) -- and they’re not wrong.  One part of this dreamlike tale features the like of a domesticated earth-bound Doctor, living in an old Edwardian house with Fitz and Compassion, who has a shrink who’s obviously supposed to be an allusion to Doctor number three and a pub on Sunday.

All signs and allusion, this thread which weaves through the main story of the book, seems to be the time lord’s attempts to rationalize the events of the previous novel particularly his torture, except that there’s a suggestion that this is real and everything else is a story; the events of The Scarlett Empress are referenced as well as the Magrs authored past Doctor novels in relation to a fantasy book that Fitz is reading and the Doctor’s old friend Sally is writing and the most exciting action is the build up to a dinner party given to Sally and her dog Canine and the Beryl Reid inspired incarnation of Iris Wyldetyme.

If the rest of the book is a story, it’s extremely busy and just as imaginative as Magrs previous writing.  The Doctor and friends are on board the Federation starship Nepotist when it visits a pocket dimension called the Enclave, inhabited by a race of glass people, lorded over by Daedalus, a talking Elephant.  Meanwhile, Iris, now regenerated to resemble Jane Fonda in Barbarella mode saves a couple of  middle-aged women and a young man from a shopping centre with has been attacked by giant owls, little suspecting that the boy is the Blue Angel of the title, resting in their company on Earth.

The Federation starship Nepotist with its erstwhile Captain Blandish are an obvious Star Trek homage, but this isn’t an affectionate Galaxy Quest-style reading, highlighting instead how the show’s multi-cultural philosophy always seemed to be filtered through jingoistic US eyes -- literally, we come in peace, shoot to kill.  As Blandish orders the removal of the Valcean’s capacity to create weapons of mass destruction by effectively leveling the place, it looks like a comment on the Iraq war with Blandish as the Bush figure -- except this was published in 1999 and none of that had happened yet.

Given how much of Doctor Who’s premise has been strip mined for episodes in that series (my favourite being the pod which randomly turned up during the Enterprise episode, Future Tense which was discovered to be ‘dimensionally transcendental) it seems only fair that we pay them back literally in a novel fashion.  What Magrs and Hoad do, however, is have that crew rerun elements of an Enterprise adventure from kamikaze decisions and fodder for fan fiction effectively crashing through the very different kind of fiction which is going on around them.

Like Interference, it’s the kind of story in which all the stuff you’d expect to happen in Doctor Who happens but not necessarily in the order you’d expect it to happen.  Unlike Interference, there’s a more clearer rhyme and reason for it -- in the idiom within with its written and the way the authors are investigating the nature of fantasy, hurling elements of a typical television tie-in novel and material from a far more literary realm to see which is the stronger or whether they can co-exist and ultimately deciding that they can’t.

So, yes, there are the wonderfully described men of glass whose only organic component, their heart can be seen beating in their chest; there’s the one-dimensional corridors which link the edges of the Enclave, weaving our adventurers in and out of each other; the flying owls who in one atmospheric scene become the transport for Iris and Fitz sitting on their back, clutching their feathers, this whole kingdom infused with winter light, the primary colours blue and white.

And in the midst of it all the Doctor, in his element, if not quite back to being his old self, not quite able to do the right thing, perhaps following Iris’s lead a bit too much.  With the latter taking the lion’s share of the action, happy to blow off a ray gun, we’re supposed to see their differing methods and why, despite everything our Doctor is the hero whereas Iris, no matter how likeable has too many secrets for comfort.  She is still a treat though, more prone to costume changes and catching Fitz’s eye.  If I was the Doctor I would have settled down with her years ago.  Yes, and her bus.

Fitz has become something of an unknown quantity -- in so many ways still the man we knew, but in so many others a stereotypical version, even more of a womaniser but also even more loyal to the Doctor.  The ironically named Compassion’s still coalescing too -- a product of the Remote, still able to tap into the signals around her, but not quite a complete person except in terms of her survival instincts.  One of the best scenes in the novel is a screwball discussion between them on Iris’s bus, straight from Capra's It Happened One Night about the Doctor’s tendency to babble in which the time lord is thrown into the Clark Gable role and Compassion becomes Claudette Colbert.  He points out to her that she hasn't been travelling with him long enough to know how these conversations are supposed to go.

As the wheels of the story crank to a stop, the book closes literally on a question, twenty of them in fact which intimate that as the reader suspects there’s far more to the story than has been presented in these 274 pages and perhaps more to be revealed in the future.  Like Buffy’s Restless, some elements will probably become really important across the general arc of the books whereas other will be ignored completely.  But if I’m being honest, much as a love this, I’m getting pretty tired with the books being comments on the Doctor or the Doctor Who concept.  What happened to telling a good, light generic adventure with nuts and bolts shocks and laughs?

Five Questions

1.  According to the wikipedia, 'The novel attracted some controversy for its portrayal of an alternate, apparently homosexual, version of the Doctor'.  Did I miss something?

2.  Just how much of a fan of Marlene Dietrich is Paul Magrs?

3.  How did either of the authors get through this interview without plugging the book?

4.  Do they know there's a very good club in Liverpool called the Blue Angel?

5.  Will Iris return?


TV [Definite spoiler] [Honestly this time] Torchwood casting news (in the comments).

[From the comments: Richard Briers is to be in 'Torchwood'. He's just been interviewed on News 24 with Carl Davis on the occasion of some new remastered prints of Charlie Chaplin films and when asked what he was doing next said something like 'I'm going to be in Torchwood. I've just read the script. It was terrifying....'

Briers was previously the Chief Caretaker in 'Paradise Towers']


Music Because of it's associations outside of Elgar's Enigma Variations (as the wikipedia puts it: "This variation has become popular in its own right and is sometimes used at funerals, memorial services, and other solemn occasions. It is always played at the Cenotaph in London on Remembrance Sunday (the Sunday nearest to 11th November") and it's impossible to listen to Variation 9 'Nimrod' without being touched by it, such a beautiful, eloquent piece and as it was played tonight in Prom 31 by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, I sobbed.

Unusually, on learning that it's partly an intellectual exercise it's power isn't dented because it's also a commemoration of friendship on Elgar's part; each of the variations is a tribute to each of his pals, and many are expressions of how he feels they might compose music if they had the ability. 'Nimrod' is about his best friend, Augustus J. Jaeger, Elgar's best friend (whose surname means hunter in German, the title of the piece referring to a hunter the Old Testament).

He was attempting to emphasis Jaeger's nobility and soundtracks a typical evening walk in which the two of them would be discussing music in this case Beethoven. Elgar achieves this by dropping in elements of Ludwig's work, particularly the adagio from the Eighth Piano Sonata ('Pathetique'). I'm listening to the Sonata as I type and for the first time I can see the similarities between the two works; in fact Elgar's homage seems like even more of an act of love as he slows Beethoven's piano down then throws in some wollop and majesty. I'd be interested to hear an orchestration of this other piece to see how it might compare.

Tonight's notes on the Prom offers words from both Elgar and his daughter on the inspiration behind the piece:
"After a long day’s fiddle teaching in Malvern, I came home very tired. Dinner being over, my dear wife said to me, ‘Edward, you look like a good cigar,’ and having lighted it, I sat down at the piano. In a little while, soothed and feeling rested, I began to play, and suddenly my wife interrupted by saying, ‘Edward, that’s a good tune.’ I awoke from the dream: ‘Eh! tune, what tune!’ and she said, ‘Play it again, I like that tune.’ I played and strummed, and played, and then she exclaimed, ‘That’s the tune.’ And that tune is the theme of the Variations."
Which underlines once more that some of the best art usually comes along when you're not trying to think too hard about it...


Books  Before ploughing ahead, I’d like to begin with an offer. I actually received the Interference books from someone at the Bookcrossing website so I’m compelled to pass them on again now that they’ve been read. But I’d rather let someone here have them, so if you’d like to borrow them next, email me on feelinglistless@btopenworld.com (with the subject line Interference) by next Friday and I’ll post them along. Obviously there’s going to be more than one so I’ll pull a name ‘out of the hat’ and let you know. Assuming you do want to after reading what I have to say.

Expectations were probably quite high when Interference was published, a two novel, multi-Doctor experience authored by Lawrence Miles, whose previous novel Alien Bodies was an instant classic and perhaps the culmination of some of the various storylines which had threaded through all of the novels since the series began, particularly the Sam-arc. Returning companions, mythology developments and perhaps a war all wrapped up in six hundred pages of Total Whoness.

So, assuming they haven’t skipped to the prologue, this reader at the turn of the century, for whom this is the next chunk of their favourite series, will have been greeted by a foreword from Miles which talks about the kind of political agenda the book doesn’t have; then an note from then commissioning editor Steve Cole, which between the lines indicates that these books aren’t going to be like anything they’ve read before which has a ring of that note in Douglas Adams’ So Long And Thanks For All The Fish which suggests the reader skips forward a few pages ahead if they’re expecting business as usual because there’s a good bit with Marvin the Paranoid Android; then the contents page and copyright notice in the wrong order followed by a dictionary definition of the word Utopia (yes really).

Finally, there is a dedication which quotes from Marshal ‘the medium is the message’ McLuhan, J.G. Ballard and James Stewart before thanking someone called Andrew Vogel who apparently changed the direction of the book with one carelessly chosen sentence. Everything in this is thematically connected with the novel, essentially suggesting that there’s no such thing as original thought because the media is already quietly filling in what our dreams and aspirations should be.

He’s not wrong -- I do spend half my time trying to battle against being a sheep, hoping against hope that creating a sense of rebellion isn’t just another form of control. But lets not forget that the reader is already seven pages into the book and the story hasn’t begun, almost as though the wary fan can’t be trusted not to take what’s about to happen the wrong way. I could describe what a new series version of this would be like, but I’ve already written about five hundred words and I don’t want to fall into the same trap.

When the novel itself finally does arrive, it’s a sprawl, a mass of ideas and incidents all of which in the end tell a non-traditional story in a fairly avant-garde fashion, in which narrative drive takes a back seat to structure and whose synopsis can’t help ending up being a list. As well as a tradition third person style, Miles' story is related as diary entries, didacticism, stream of conscience, authorial interventions screenplays and even a poster. Each of the chapter titles also includes a statement of intent -- so chapter one is called Gibberish (introducing Mr Llewis and all his neurosese).

The inevitable cinematic touchstone this time is Tarantino’s films, with the overall story separated into separate portions, all run after one another with the linkages becoming apparent as the narrative progresses.

The Eighth Doctor plot is about how aliens are trying to sell a weapon, The Cold on Earth and how Sarah Jane sets out to stop them, Sam being used as a test rat in an utopia seeking to deepen its purpose, Fitz isolated from everyone and lost in time and Eighth spends a spell either being tortured or in a prison cell discussing his own anomalous politics with another inmate.

The Third Doctor’s section concerns itself with a bizarre incident on the planet Dust at the end of that incarnation, in which he and Sarah-Jane become mixed up with a travelling circus and a lump of plot (for want of a better description) which has strayed into his era from the Eighth Doctor novels (he spends some of the time wondering if he’s stumbled into someone else’s adventure and he obviously has).

It falls short of being a hyperlink drama because although each book is split into two sections -- the Eighth Doctor and Third Doctor’s own adventures -- everything is still fundamentally linked in ways which are only apparent in the closing fifty pages and eventually dovetail together. There’s also a framing story about the Doctor and would you believe I.M. Foreman set on a planet somewhere.

All of which is an oversimplification of the action because like Alien Bodies, this is a book of ideas. There are hundreds of them, spilling out across every page either in dialogue or descriptions but unlike Alien Bodies in which they were hung on a fairly tight mostly traditional Doctor Who narrative, most of them here only broadly coalescing now and then, and because there’s such a bewildering prevalence of them it’s difficult to decide which are the most important and should be stored up in the memory in case they’re invoked later. This is probably the first novel in which a notebook would be handy, which is odd because although it’s good that Miles is attempting to challenge the reader, should there be any Doctor Who novel in which its good to have a notebook handy?

Once I turned though to the final page of the opus, I was feeling fatigued, slightly jaded, angry with the way some of the characters had been treated and rather depressed. One of the criticisms leveled at recently deceased director Ingmar Bergman is that these are the emotions that his films evoke -- but at least, even in the darkest of his stories Winter Light there’s an element of hope. After reading these two books I literally feel as though Miles has set out to deliberately ruin the franchise for me.

I’m not, for example, the kind of person who really wants every potential mystery in the Whoniverse solved -- I like not knowing how Eighth became Ninth and the details of the tv time war. Miles seems intent on answering questions when I’m not sure people have really ever asked the question. Do we need to know for example who I.M. Foreman is and what the junkyard might be really? I was quite happy to think he was a bloke who owned a junkyard that was a junkyard, but Miles provides an elaborate back story which whilst fascinating and clever, probably, reads as being as bolted on as it is.

Same goes for the question of why The Doctor persists in regime changes in remote colonies and the like and blatantly ignores the kind of despotism which is perpetrated on his beloved Earth. The already mentioned Aristotelian discourse on the subject between the time lord and inmate, whilst interesting, definitely, stops the time lord from doing what we’ve ‘tuned in’ to see which is the Doctor being heroic and doing heroic things which he totally fails to do with the exception of a neat bit of teleportation created through bloody (as in O-positive) equations.

The Sam subplot has more relevance to what constitutes the main story, again it seems like a fudge when you consider that it’s her final adventure. Given that she’s spent large portions of her tenure separated from the Doctor, perhaps it is fitting that she should be separated from the Doctor, the real one anyway. But after initially breaking into an arms fair and meeting Sarah-Jane she doesn’t become what you’d call an active participant as she’s then introduced to a dying colony and subsequently dropped into a series of fantasies based on her own television expectation what space adventure should be so that her actions can be observed and commented on.

Miles is obviously attempting to demonstrate what Ballard was talking about within the actual story, and it’s to be applauded for having something to say, but is this really the time to be saying it and with this character? Often described as a proto-Rose, she’s actually developed far further than her tv counterpart, the highlights of her tenure being Vampire Science and the events of Seeing I in which she demonstrated that crucially, unlike Rose she had a cause and perhaps an even greater strength.

Each of the different scenarios described here (using the admittedly ingenious device of a screenplay) have their own quotient of excitement (of course Brian Blessed as Rassilon!) and though they say a lot about her loyalty to the Doctor (an idealised version of whom also appears) and what Sam’s capable of, none of them in the end mean all that much and in the end become rather tiresome. To see her going out on a whimper as part of a far larger construct than a blaze of excitement is major a disappointment.

But that’s as nothing to the treatment that Fitz gets at the hands of the author the ramifications of which are bound to spill out over the course of the next few dozen stories and has nothing to do with the character who I so admired in the last couple of books. More than once I found myself saying out loud ‘You can’t do that’ and you can’t -- well alright you can, but you eventually end up with a lot of really pissed off fans. And apart from anything else it all seems to out of character for him.
Far more enjoyable are the sectors related to Sarah-Jane and the aforementioned alien weapons, which mostly inhabit the first book and generally provides the author with his chance to talk about the international arms trade. For once Sarah gets to be a journalist and a very good one and if anything she’s the one doing everything you’d expect the Doctor to be doing and it’s to Miles credit that the older version isn’t a million miles away from the extrapolation that appears in the new television spin-off, As with School Reunion, there’s some real nostalgia when K9 rattles onto the scene and you can’t help smiling when she’s befriending an Ogron.

I prefer the tv’s version of her being re-united with the Doctor when the TARDIS hived into view and she chides him for leaving her behind all those years ago. Here it’s all done straight to character and she asks none of the questions which you’d expect. It’s not a bad scene, it’s just not the conversation you’d expect them to have after all those years. It’s in these sections that Miles seems most at ease -- his characterisation of Llewis, the David Brentian arms-dealer are very precious, particular as he deals with his own personal demon in the shape of Perter bloody Morgan his office rival.

Obviously a younger version of Sarah appears in the Third Doctor portions and she’s definitely the version from Pertwee’s final year. His characterisation of Third seems more like a comment on how the character was portrayed in the Target novelisations than as a fully rounded character but perhaps that’s to be expected when there’s only a couple of hundred pages to play with, he isn’t enjoying his own adventure and the action is focused more on a visiting Faction Paradox splinter group, who I.M. Foreman is and creating another problem which will only effect the Doctor in his Eighth incarnation in the style of The Two Doctors. Ultimately though it’s in the second of these sections at the close of the second novel that the story really dragged and never mind interference I began to feel resistance.

Miles rather shoots himself in the foot because by presenting the epic conclusion of the Eighth Doctor story and Sam‘s beautifully written denouement in the middle of the book he provides the emotional climax to the story. And then it goes on for another hundred pages when the reader is spent and want to go on to something else. I’d wager this whole story might have worked just as well if the Eighth and Third plots had been presented in totally separate volumes, allowing the former to have much greater focus and the latter more room to breath, keeping the framing chat between the Doctor and his old friend to link them together. Perhaps a commercial imperative led to each story being separated across the volumes so that readers weren’t tempted to skip the Pertwee volume, but there would certainly have been enough in there to make it essential. Not that I’d want to second guess the author.

In the crush it would be easy not to notice that a new companion is introduced. The adorably named Compassion is one of the 'people' who is first seen on earth trying to offload the alien The Cold to Llewis. She part of the construct of the narrative, something of a plot point in relation to Fitz's story but quite a tragic figure. She's described at one point as a fuller version of Nicole Kidman with less dress sense and an English accent so at least there's someone to have in mind during future adventures. Like Fitz, here continuation aboard ship seems to be as a result of the Doctor not being sure what do with her otherwise rather than thinking she'll be a valid member of the crew -- hopefully like Fitz, she'll be given a big role in the next adventure which makes us care about her.

What you’re inevitably left with in the end is a real marmite of a book, and certainly I have seen reviews online from people who adore the novels. I’m disappointed to say, that, despite usually championing the avante-guard, the post-modern, the experimental, the problem I have in the end despite having some wonderfully written passages and wanting to stretch the mythology of the series, experimenting with what’s there to create some new things, it doesn’t hang together as a coherent story. It’s too busy answering questions no one’s asked and presenting other quandaries which subsequent authors are going to have to twist their brain in order to find a solution. It commits the sin of becoming too self-congratulatory, too convinced of its own brilliance and eventually gets lost up its own arse. Sorry Lawrence.

You ...

Film Posters for Bratz: The Movie have been popping up all over town, four fresh young female yet slightly anonymous faces, apparently an experiment based on the the splicing the DNA of Daphne & Celeste and the twins from Big Brother grinning from bus shelters and billboards, it's pink border reducing visibility in the space surrounding them.

I've never been one to judge a film by its poster though so I wondered if actually it still had the potential for being a hidden gem in the order of Josie and the Pussycats which had a dreadful poster. Then I read Scott's review at Cinematical:
"To the point: This is one of the worst movies I've ever seen. I'll go as far as to call it one of the worst movies anyone's ever seen. Bratz is one the worst movies a stillborn chicken in Peru has ever seen. All those adjectives the movie critics love to throw around in an effort to make one simple point ("stay away!") are applicable here: Bratz is grating, puerile, limp and lethargic. Flat, listless, amateurish and ten flavors of horrifically inept. It's shallow and formless, confused and obtuse. Pitiful, execrable, wretched, abysmal ... man, adjectives are great. This flimsy excuse for entertainment is so plainly worthless that the only thing a halfway-intelligent ape could possibly think as it unspools is ... dang, people really will do anything for money. Movies based on toys are nothing new. Movies based on toys are also nothing good."
Features Jon Voight who really doesn't seem to care about his 'art' anymore. Shame.


About I'm wanting to buy a USB Freeview thingy for my computer. Does anyone have any experience of these and/or can they recommend a good one?


Music Last night's Prom 29 given by the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain conducted by Mark Elder was one of, if not the best of the series and one of the few occasion when I've wished I was in the Royal Albert Hall to be a witness. Luckily, friend of the blog Ian Jones did manage to attend and has written this brilliant guest blog post which provides some of the flavour of what it was like:

I've been going to Prom concerts on and off for almost two decades now, but this one was unlike anything I'd heard before.

Some of it was to do with the relationship between the audience and the performers. A lot of friends, family and supporters of the National Youth Orchestra were in, and you could sense there was a great deal of pride in the air. Before the concert even started people in the audience were shouting out individual musicians' names and cheering them on. The place was packed, which helped. It meant the atmosphere was extraordinarily electric.

But what made this concert into one of the finest I've heard in my life was the performance itself. The main work, Shostakovich's 7th Symphony, is one of my favourites by my favourite composer, so I guess I was already pre-disposed to it being a worthwhile evening. However the playing of the NYO was incredible. It was just such an extraordinarily emotional performance; you could see and feel every single one of the players going for it. They were all between the ages of 13 and 19, which made their collective efforts even more staggering.

I was just blown away, frankly. The symphony itself is an emotionally draining adventure (being inspired by the German invasion of the USSR in 1941 and its subsequent stalling at the city of Leningrad; Shostakovich wrote it in the city itself, while it was under siege for a massive 880 days). But to hear it performed this way - the clatter, the poignancy, the control, the effort - was almost too much to take.

At the end the audience went on clapping and clapping. The explosion of applause and goodwill was heartfelt and very moving. I also saw some of the orchestra hugging and congratulating each other as we began to file out, which was really touching.

I can imagine how, if I'd have been watching them, say, 20 years younger than I am now, I would have come away instantly inspired to pick up and learn how to play the first musical instrument I could find. It was that sort of transformative magic that was at work in the Albert Hall all evening.

As it was the camarederie and the shared thrill in performance reminded me more than ever of what I lost when, for a number of reasons, I gave up music as my main vocation and went off to university do something entirely different.

A stunning night with bittersweet associations and one I shall remember for a very long time.